NEW YORK (MainStreet) — While nine months pregnant in 2008, Nefertari Nelson suffered a heart attack. Both she and the baby survived, yet Nelson's heart remains compromised, and she has been unable to return to work.

Nelson, a freelance writer and inspirational speaker, remembered that she had purchased a short-term policy for $26 biweekly through Aflac back in 2005. The insurer paid her $15,000, no hassles, she says. Her husband and she were able to pay all their bills and had a little money left over for a cushion.

Without short-term disability insurance, Nelson said, she would have lost everything. But for those who want to protect their long-term financial situation, it may be too expensive to buy and too expensive to enforce payment, if needed.

Long-term individual policies reportedly cost between 1% to 4% of annual income.

Long-term group disability policies, also known as paycheck protection, typically cover 50% to 60% of a beneficiary's paycheck and cost an average of $250 per year through an employer's group coverage, according a spokesperson for The Hartford.

Except for certain medical professionals, such as surgeons or endodontists, for whom even the slightest injury can be career-ending, and individuals fearful of sustaining a catastrophic injury, Edward Comitz, an attorney who works exclusively with healthcare practitioners' private disability claims, doesn't recommend buying an individual policy. In fact, he doesn't have one himself. Private policy premiums are expensive, and it can be difficult to get the insurer to pay out on claims, he says. And because of this, Comitz advises those individuals who decide to invest in one of these insurance policies to prepare for the costs of a lawsuit in the event that their claim is denied.

Most long-term disability plans have a waiting period of three to six months before coverage starts, says Jennifer S. Campbell, an insurance consultant at NTA Life Insurance Company. She advises getting a short-term policy to cover this gap.

If you purchase disability insurance from an employer and pay premiums with pretax dollars, "60% of the benefit will be taxed at your current tax rate," says John Slater of Country Financial. If you pay your premiums with after-tax dollars on an individual policy purchased outside of the workplace, then the benefits paid are tax-free at your current tax rate, he says.

--Written for MainStreet by S.Z. Berg, author of College on the Cheap