Note from author:
The following article, written by me, was published in the June 2000 issue of ‘Life Insurance Selling Magazine.’ I feel that it is very appropriate for this venue because it has been my experience that most small-business people do not carry adequate life and disability insurance.
I have worked for more than thirty-five years in the insurance business, as an agent for two-thirds of that time. Many times–particularly through the struggling years–I asked myself, “Why not just give up?”
The answer was always the same: Dad. Jim. Mary. Brian. Jon. Mike. Greg. Some of these stories hit very close to home. All of them helped reaffirm my belief in the need for insurance.
Learning from tragic circumstances
Dad died when I was seven years old. It was 1951 and he left my forty-three years old mother with no life insurance, a failing business to run, and six children to raise. In my mind I can still hear her saying, “I don’t know where the next meal is coming from.”
My mother was consumed with fear and worries about clothing, automobiles, education and the myriad of other financial concerns that you might expect. She developed an ulcer but somehow struggled through her own personal depression. Eventually, after our family locker business went under, she became a secretary and each of the kids began working part-time jobs.
At the time, I had no idea that there could have been an alternative. I did not know how the magic of life insurance could have created an estate for Mom, my two sisters, three brothers, and me. Dad did not make that choice.
Now, I’ll fast forward to my start in the life insurance business in 1968. I wrote a policy on a wonderful young man, Jim, who had been recently married. At the time he bought the policy to provide security for his new bride and to put away money for the long-term. I saw Jim at a football game on a Friday night and made arrangements to deliver his policy which had been approved and was on my office desk.
“Yes, Tuesday night will be fine,” he said. “We would love to show off our new apartment to you.”
That Sunday I received a shocking phone call. Jim had been killed in an accidental shooting while hunting that morning. Within a few weeks, rather than deliver a policy to Jim, I was delivering my first death claim check to his grief-stricken twenty-one year old widow.
In another one of my early cases, although she was single, Mary purchased a policy as a put-and-keep account after we had the “live, die, quit or disabled” discussion that I always used in my sales presentation. She was vibrant and enthusiastic about everything she did. The last time I talked to her, Mary was excited about her new job as secretary at one of the town’s leading employers. She had been involved in a minor car accident, however, and her doctor suggested that she take a week off between jobs and rest her injured ankle.
Then tragedy struck once again. A blood clot broke loose and young Mary died in her mother’s arms. Though stunned, I was able to deliver a check to her parents that more than covered final expenses.
Brian was my fifteen-year old brother-in-law. His parents were relatively tight on finances and I had a conversation with them about what would happen if something happened to Brian. Again, a small policy was put in force.
Less than two years later, I received a nightmarish telephone call that I will never forget. The driver of the van in which Brian was riding fell asleep and hit a bridge abutment head on. The driver sustained minor injuries and walked away, but Brian died instantly. I will always remember my mother-in-law saying to me sometime later, “Even in the initial shock and pain, I drew comfort from knowing that I did not have to concern myself with the costs.”
Jon was a great kid. I had taught him during my days as a high school teacher and sold him a policy just after he graduated. He moved away but we stayed in touch and he kept the policy in force. Jon named his parents as beneficiary for most of the contract but designated a portion to his brother so that he could attend college.
Through a strange set of circumstances, Jon got involved in stock car racing a year after he purchased the policy. One Saturday night, with his parents in the stands, a wheel broke loose from his race car and the resulting accident took his life.
After investigating the incident regarding Jon’s racing as it pertained to the contestable clause, my carrier paid the claim.
Incredibly, as a young insurance agent, I had helped provide needed dollars to four families and in each case described not one of the insureds was even twenty-five years old!
What about Mike and Greg?
Twenty-five years later I was touched by two powerful events, one of which involved life insurance and the other a rider.
Mike was my oldest brother who died a few days before turning fifty-five. Cancer had gotten to his liver and there was nothing more the doctors could do.
I recall standing around Mike’s deathbed with his two adult sons and adult daughter. Since he was divorced, his children were equal beneficiaries of the contracts that he had purchased from others and me through the years. Tearfully and proudly, Mike informed my niece and nephews that they would receive tax-free money to pay off their college loans, buy new cars, invest long-term in mutual funds, set up short-term savings accounts, and have some fun.
I am proud to say that they did all of the above. I am also proud to say that my brother was able, with my help and encouragement as a life insurance agent, to do something for his children that our dad had not done for us–create an estate.
I will close with a story about the youngest of our three sons, Greg. He is married, has his master’s degree and a terrific job here in Des Moines. We had purchased $25,000 permanent policies on his older brothers, Ed and Tom, when each turned sixteen, including a ‘purchase option’ rider. In keeping with the tradition, we did the same for Greg–a healthy high school student who excelled in sports and academics.
Two weeks after the policy was issued, Greg began to mysteriously lose weight and became very weak. One Saturday we rushed him to the emergency room to discover that he had developed Type One diabetes and would be insulin-dependent for life. Fortunately, because of the purchase option rider, Greg is assured that he can buy standard coverage at various times with no need to prove insurability. This is even more critical since he has become the father of our two wonderful grandsons, Ben and Luke.
A true believer
So am I a believer in life insurance? As we like to say in Iowa, “You bet!”
The circumstances described above serve as proof to me that business owners would be wise to shift financial risks related to death and disability from themselves to insurance companies.
Bill Sheridan—SHERIDAN WRITES, LLC
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