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A Will and a Way
A new prepaid legal plan offers employees the chance to plan for the inevitable

A string of sudden deaths among Hopkins faculty physicians over the past two years prompted leadership to find a way to enlighten employees about the value and importance of making out a will. Too many people—even brilliant physicians—delay executing a will. In fact, 70 percent of all Americans do not have wills.

With this sobering statistic in mind, in January 2004, JHHSC/JHH began offering employees a group legal plan. Provided through Hyatt Legal Plans, a MetLife subsidiary and the largest provider of group legal plans in the country, the plan gives employees access to professional legal counsel for $15 per month, over the course of a year. Services cover not just will preparation (which otherwise would cost between $300 and $500), but also a variety of legal problems such as those involving family and real estate matters, court appearances and document review. Advantages abound: There are no deductibles, no co-payments, no waiting periods, no claim forms and no limits on usage. That translates into substantial savings for employees.

Funded through payroll deductions, the plans are all part of a growing trend among employers to share the burden of legal expenses. According to a recent survey, an estimated 3 million people are enrolled in employer-sponsored legal plans. As legal services become more necessary in our complex society, prepaid legal plans are an increasingly valuable perk, says Mary Carole Kirkpatrick, director of health and welfare for the JHHSC/JHH Department of Human Resources. A prepaid legal plan is like preventive medicine. “Lawyers can review contracts before you sign them, averting a potential legal crisis,” she says. “And, of course, employees are much more likely to prepare wills when legal assistance is so affordable.”

But legal conundrums can baffle even the well informed. So, to help all Hopkins employees understand the legal situations they’re likely to encounter—including estate planning—Kirkpatrick and WORKlife Director Kathy Beauchesne arranged for educational seminars. Called “The Importance of Making a Will” and held at Homewood and East Baltimore in September and October, the sessions were run by Hyatt representative and attorney Michael Breads. Breads (pronounced BREEDS) discussed steps to take now in order to avoid costly or time-consuming legal problems in the future. He demystified wills; living trusts; powers of attorney and advance directives; and family planning issues involving custody, guardianship and financial support for children.

One common misconception, Breads noted, is that when there’s no will, the surviving spouse gets everything when the partner dies. This usually isn’t the case. Even single people, Breads said, should plan ahead. “If you don’t start the process, when you need it, it’s too late.” Additional seminars on other WORKlife topics will be offered in the coming months. Check for details.

So far, through the new prepaid legal plan,16 employees have drafted wills, 12 have made living trusts, and 21 have designated powers of attorney. Kirkpatrick hopes more will follow suit. “The financial and emotional security for your loved ones is well worth the reasonable cost,” she says. And the best part, she adds, is you’ll feel immediate peace of mind knowing that your affairs are in order should a crisis arise.

—Judy Minkove



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