I have been doing some informal surveys of successful long term care insurance producers, general agents and marketers throughout the last few years to try to discover what a truly successful long term care insurance (LTCI) salesperson looks like. I have found (and suspected prior to looking) that they come from very diverse backgrounds -- social workers, educators, nurses, retail businesspeople, attorneys, accountants, entertainers, even a few clergymen and politicians. Their age at entry into our business is also all over the place, ranging from their early 20s to late 70s. I'm also sure that if I continued looking and surveying, I would find younger entries and even a few older ones. People of all religions and ethnic backgrounds, people with substantial assets and prior excellent incomes from their former occupations, but also quite a number of them with very little prior financial success. It may be surprising to some to learn that we found less than 50 percent with prior sales experience of any kind at all.
So, what do really successful people in our industry all have in common? I believe I've been able to establish the one common thread that binds all these wonderfully diverse people together. Here it is: A story to share and a true belief in the value of the product itself. Most of us have, or will have, our own story to share because we have aging parents or parent-in-law. We may have had our own personal long term care experience or, like me, had all of the aforementioned occur. The sharing of those experiences with coworkers, clients and prospects is invaluable, and will bring home the reality of the situation to the listener.
In my own case, I even have a title for my story, it's called "The Gelbwaks family's long care term dilemma -- Will it be your family's story?" The extremely shortened version of that story starts with my mom, Lea, who passed away in 1995 at the age of 80. Lea was a great mom, wonderful homemaker, wife and mother to her three sons.
Unfortunately, my mom started becoming ill at the young age of 50 and lived exactly 30 more years with various disabling illnesses. She ended up having 16 different surgeries during that time and more than 60 hospital stays. This one, wonderful little lady had five broken hip procedures, emphysema, severe digestive system issues, cancer, heart problems and, finally and most devastating, manic depression.
My dad died in 1986, so Mom became my "responsibility," as both my brothers lived out of town and even that would not have mattered as I was the "social worker" personality anyway -- having been a Sociology major in college. Don't get me wrong, I loved my mom dearly; however, the last five years or so of her life were a devastating experience for all involved. It was a nightmare financially, emotionally and even physically. Her total bill, when all was said and done, was in excess of $250,000.
Mom was a great inspiration for me concerning the will to live and fight on despite the obstacles we face. When she reached her 80th birthday, I asked her if she ever expected to live that long, considering all of her many years of health challenges. Her response may shock you, as it did me. She sat up in bed, looked me straight in the eye, and with the very little strength she had left, she said " No Peter, I did not , but as long as I made it to 80, I might as well shoot for 90!" She died 90 days later. She will always be remembered with great love and affection.
Here comes the kicker of the story. Mom could never qualify for LTCI because she was seriously ill for too long. She also did not even qualify for Medicaid because she had assets and income that could not be transferred at that time. (This fact did not matter much for most of that period, as I had promised to keep her in her own home and Medicaid was, and still is, an institutionally-based program). The $250,000 in bills had to be paid from the "Peter Gelbwaks retirement fund."
When my mother-in-law Anita needed care at age 85, the financial situation was much different, because we certainly had learned our lesson the hard way and made sure Anita had full LTCI coverage many years before her deterioration began. Anita died last year at the age of 91, but before she did, she was able to receive five years of benefits from an excellent long term care insurance contract (which made all the difference in the quality of her life). I say that because Anita never had significant income or assets, but was always very independent in spirit. In fact, she had five husbands that she outlived and was quite the party animal. After much coaxing, Anita agreed to move to an excellent assisted living facility in our neighborhood and was able to fully enjoy her daughters, granddaughters and great granddaughters visits and regular attention until her passing without being a burden in any way to her family due to her LTCI coverage.
The final part of my story has to do with my wife, Sharon. At age 57, Sharon had a cervical procedure done at a prestigious institution, but things went awry and she became totally disabled for almost that entire year. Sharon had facial paralysis, swallowing issues and even speech problems. The year 2007 became a very long, hard year for Sharon and I, and our immediate family. The good news is we have great coverage (actually two contracts -- one reimbursement and one cash plan) and the very best part of the story is that Sharon has fully recovered.
The lessons learned were many, but the main one is that bad things can and do happen to good people. There is no magic age when this may occur and none of us are immune to the risk. Proper planning is the only way to avoid disaster or at very least to dull the effects of tragic occurrences. Having seen this all first-hand, both my daughters purchased excellent coverage on themselves and their spouses while they were all in their early 30s and we are all very glad they did. We all sleep better knowing that is one huge financial issue we will not have to face.
Owning your own policy or buying one today will serve two very important purposes: First, when you physically show people you own a LTCI contract, it will prove to your clients and prospects that you are a true believer in the concept and the contract, and, when you have your own story to tell, it will show how much you care and why your story will have a positive financial ending, just like theirs will if they follow your lead.
I ask you now to consider taking action today on an issue that deserves your immediate attention.
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