Planning equals preparation
When it comes to addressing end-of-life needs and services, most people know it's important to plan ahead, but many put it off because they would rather not have to think about the topic. It's the aim of companies such as Everest and Hyatt Legal Plans to make those necessary preparations and subsequent requirements as simple and beneficial as possible.
According to Mark Duffey, Everest's president and CEO, most people are involved in a funeral roughly every 14 years. "They don't want to think about it, they don't want to do it and ... most people haven't been involved with one for a long time - if ever," he says.
Consequently, they're often overwhelmed by the process. That's where Everest's funeral planning and concierge service comes in. Participants have 24/7 access to a knowledgeable adviser, a nationwide pricing database, online tools and family support services such as price negotiating assistance.
"We're getting a whole lot of interest in it right now," says Duffey of the voluntary benefit. "It's timely, people get it, they understand that all you have to do is have an experience with this and know that you'd rather - No. 1, not have to have it - but No. 2, if you could get some help to get you through it, it would be big."
Everest entered the market in 2002 selling the product on an individual basis. It's marketed along with whole-life policies through Western Life Assurance in Canada and Mutual of Omaha in the United States. Pricing is $495 for a single payment or $48 a year with a money-back guarantee, says Duffey.
Because no one had ever brought such a product to the group market, Duffey explains that it took several years to gain traction in the group arena. When Everest first expanded to the group market through a partnership with The Hartford in 2009, "it changed the landscape and brought this [product] to the forefront," he says.
Of course, it's not just the funeral that people are often reluctant to think about. Recent studies show that less than half of the American public has an updated will, or any will at all, according to Marcia L. Bowers, marketing director for Hyatt Legal Plans, a fully-owned subsidiary of MetLife.
Hyatt's core product is MetLaw, a group legal plan offered for $16-18 a month. According to Bowers, 1,300 employers currently offer the plan. The estate planning services are the most utilized option. "People haven't gotten wills yet, and each new generation has put off getting wills," she says. "It's a key draw when the employer [offers it]. People just drag their feet on getting or updating a will, and it's perpetually the highest-used service, [along with] powers of attorney, which are part of that."
Often someone will sign up for the legal plan with the sole intention of getting a will prepared, then find they need to update it the following year when they have a baby or buy a home, Bowers points out. "The estate planning is an ongoing process," she says.
That's been Frank Fimmano's experience at Aon Hewitt as well. "We see a growing trend toward advisory services in varying degrees among the leading providers of legal plans - advisory services as well as legal services, and in some cases, financial advisory services," says Fimmano, who is senior vice president with Aon Hewitt's elective benefits practice in New York City. "Life can confront an 80-year-old or a 30-year-old. Those services seem to be increasingly apparent in legal services plans."
Hyatt also covers elder care matters for employees' parents. Attorneys can provide consultation and review documents, consult on issues related to Medicare, prescription plans, nursing home agreements, leases, power of attorney and more, Bowers explains.
Additionally, a few years ago Hyatt created an ancillary service called FamilyMatters, where employee plan members can pay an additional fee to purchase estate planning documents for their parents.
Everest also offers expanded service. While Level 1 covers the employee, spouse and children age 25 and younger; Level 2 will also cover parents and in-laws.
High customer service
Hyatt's MetLaw product is delivered through a national network of 12,000 pre-qualified plan attorneys from 5,300 law firms across all 50 states and U.S. territories. With so many participating firms, clients are encouraged to meet with their attorney and develop a professional rapport with them, similar to a doctor-patient relationship, says Bowers. Such contact ensures client satisfaction and also increases retention rates. The current retention rate is 83% "because people get to know them and like them," Bowers says.
For those not needing an in-person meeting, plan participants can expect an answer to questions submitted to Hyatt's client service center website within 24 hours.
Thanks to call centers in Toronto, Boise, Idaho, and Des Moines, Iowa, Everest offers access to a live consultant 24 hours a day.
"The ability to have somebody who's an expert and impartial is part of our big value offering, especially in a market like this, where the No. 1 fear of consumers is being taken advantage of," says Duffey.