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Protection brief: Adding value through legal advice

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One area grabbing the protection industry’s attention at the moment is the provision of legal advice for those diagnosed with a serious or terminal illness.

Some providers already offer basic legal advice more generally through telephone helplines as part of their “value-added” support packages. The idea is to provide practical help rather than just throw money at people during a difficult time.

But the recent partnership between specialist protection adviser Future Proof and legal charity Legacare has put the difficulties accessing legal help faced by those specifically with a serious or terminal illness under the spotlight.

Teaming up with Legacare – a charity set up in 2011 by solicitor Meg Kirby and which has Peter Le Beau as its chairman – gives around 5,000 Future Proof clients access to legal help following diagnosis of such an illness.

“Roll their sleeves up”

Future Proof chief executive David Mead says as it provides the funding, its clients will get free legal advice regardless of the charity’s usual criteria for this.

He says: “When diagnosed with a terminal illness, people deal with a lot of emotional issues as well as the practical things. They will probably not be working at that point so there could be potential financial pressures.

“We refer clients to Legacare and they roll their sleeves up to help with things like lasting power of attorney, drafting a will, dealing with relationship issues or employment issues if the person has been off work a long time.

“We are hoping other firms, particularly insurers, see this as an important benefit they could add.”

There is a growing feeling the industry could – and wants to – do more to ease the pressures on those who cannot access legal advice due to financial or personal circumstances.

Legacare founder Kirby points out people with a serious or terminal illness are vulnerable and often feel exposed, so getting help with legal issues, which can sometimes be complex, is of paramount importance.

Dealing as promptly as possible with the person’s concerns about things like their employment, wills or welfare of children can greatly improve their quality of life during this very difficult time.

She says: “It’s about early legal intervention in patient care which is slowly becoming recognised as forming part of an integrated care pathway.”

Scottish Widows protection specialist Johnny Timpson thinks that, given the FCA’s focus on improving vulnerable customer outcomes, it makes sense for providers and advisers to review the support they provide to their clients.

He says: “The provision of legal support such as the service Future Proof has put together with Legacare is a highly innovative vulnerable customer solution, especially at point of claim, and provides something much-needed.

“I’m not aware of any other financial protection provider offering specialist legal support, so it will be very interesting to see how this develops and we’re following it closely.

“I firmly believe our industry should do more to work with health charities and provide an extensive menu of support services that can add real value and support in difficult times.”

“I’m not aware of any other financial protection provider offering specialist legal support, so it will be very interesting to see how this develops and we’re following it closely.”

User growth

Royal London senior product development manager Jennifer Gilchrist has seen a steady increase in users of the legal advice line that forms part of its Helping Hand support package. She says there is scope to offer more specific services for people who are seriously or terminally ill if there is a need for it among customers.

She says: “Legal advice is something that’s needed and we are looking at doing more. We are actively looking at what the customer needs; we don’t want to add something they will not use. But we should be challenged as to whether what we provide is what the customer wants and how we can deliver that.”

However, London Law firm Hodge Jones & Allen private client partner Ian Lane thinks providers have a “spotty” record in providing legal services as an additional benefit. He says some provide trust documentation, for example, but are not liable for any errors on completed forms that could invalidate a trust.

He says: “I currently advise a leading insurer on specific issues relating to badly or incorrectly completed forms that they provide on a non-recourse basis. My advice to them has always been ‘don’t do it’ but they continue to provide forms and incur costs because they say they are providing a value-added service.”

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