I recently spent three weeks in Poland doing what I feel called to do these days. I traveled with two teammates named Rich and Joan (a delightful married couple). We conducted three nightly seminars each week on the subject of Emotional Intelligence. Our audience was comprised of university students from multiple universities in three different cities. We spent the daytime hours meeting with individual students for mentoring. Our purpose in traveling to other countries is to use what God has given us (our experience, training, wisdom from our lives and careers) to encourage university students to use what God has given them, so they can, in turn, make a positive impact on other people.
We started in Poznan, ended in Warsaw, and in the middle week, found ourselves in Krakow. There we stayed in a boutique hotel named “Amber.” At the front desk we received a guide meant to help us pronounce Polish phrases that we may want to use in our encounters with native speakers.
Sadly, we did not find the guide to be all that useful. Consider the examples shown in Table 1.
We had nothing. Our tongues and lips locked up like we had mouthfuls of peanut butter.
The guide is intended to address the needs of a traveler, someone who does not speak the language. The guide is designed to somehow help travelers use a few expressions to better navigate their unusual surroundings. It is not altogether successful.
This experience caused me to reflect on the language we use in independent distribution and financial services, and in life insurance specifically. The people we serve are often experiencing traumatic changes and stressful financial fluctuations. How well does our lexicon meet their needs?
Point: At a time when the industry is marketing complex products with opaque and technical features, it behooves the independent financial professional to use great care to use the right words in all communications.
Where there is ambiguity, or when the information is stated in terms that people generally do not use, the opportunity for misunderstanding increases. For example, today’s indexed universal life policies are steeped in words, phrases, and terms that individually confuse the reader and, when considered in combination, utterly baffle the mind.
This hard-to-understand terminology invites distrust. This opens the door to commentaries and articles stating such things as, “Critics say indexed universal life insurance is being sold dishonestly.”1
Life insurance at its very core comes to life when people come to the end of theirs. The good of life insurance enters into grief.
Question: In the life insurance industry, are we providing clear guidance, sharing useful, understandable words, and giving people the ability to navigate the strange world of grief?
The writer C.S. Lewis (born November 29, 1898; died November 22, 1963) spent most of his adult life as a bachelor. In 1956 he married an American writer named Joy Davidman. Tragically, she died of cancer four years later at the age of 45. Lewis, a deeply respected thinker, philosopher, theologian, and author of nearly three dozen books, found himself without words, without answers.
To help himself sort out the confusion of emotions, doubts, and lost direction, he kept a journal that became a book entitled, “A Grief Observed.”
Here is how the book begins:
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”2
Point: When a life insurance death benefit is paid, the money slides in under an invisible blanket separating the deceased’s family from the world. The death proceeds land in the world of grief.
Personal Pain of Grief
Lewis died one week before his 65th birthday. My own father died one week before his 67th birthday.
It was a little after 8:00 AM on Monday, November 15, 1993, and I was sitting in a conference room with all the other executives of Manhattan National Life. We were about to begin an all-day planning session to choose our strategies for 1994. My assistant, Becky, opened the door, apologized for interrupting, and came to me and whispered in my ear, “Dave, Di is on the phone. You need to take her call.”
My wife let me know that my Dad had unexpectedly died overnight. I informed my colleagues and headed home from downtown Cincinnati. I went directly to Spring Grove Cemetery. Designated as a National Historic Landmark, Spring Grove is very much like a park with over 700 acres of trees and flowers. There among the headstones I wept like never before. Every one of those graves held the remains of people who left grieving loved ones behind. I was not experiencing anything new. But it was new to me.
Lewis: “The death of a beloved is an amputation.”3
My Dad died whole in all his relationships. He and I knew we loved one another and there was nothing that needed to be said or forgiven. Yet, suddenly, the familial appendage known as “Dad” was gone from this world, from my life.
In A Word
Those of us in the life insurance industry should pay attention to the words we use to describe our products and our processes.
Consider the following examples:
It is easy to find a dictionary definition or legal description of this word.
A beneficiary is a natural person or other legal entity who receives money or other benefits from a benefactor. A beneficiary is the person or entity chosen by the deceased to receive the benefits from the decedent’s life insurance coverage.
Beyond its definition, we have the opportunity to incorporate the truer essence of the word in our usage.
To be a beneficiary, then, is to be lovingly selected, and generously designated to receive valuable benefits. A beneficiary is the target of the intentions and affections of the deceased.
Point: Every independent financial professional should take great care in explaining the beautiful essence of the relationship between the policyholder and the beneficiary.
The word “claim” has many different uses. It can refer to property, to rights, or to something set aside for another. Alternatively, a claim can take on a negative connotation and mean “an assertion,” or even “allegation.” Independent financial professionals can help grieving families by stating the word “claim” in the positive sense of seeking what is due or securing a privilege or what is rightfully theirs.
“The loss of a loved one is devastating, and the life insurance claim process may only add to that feeling of grief and finality. But try to take solace in knowing that your departed loved one had a life insurance policy to help you during this difficult time.”4
Beyond the Words
Not only do life insurance products achieve their purpose when an insured dies, the independent financial professional can also.
Because life insurance companies are not tracking every insured to see if they are still living, the deceased’s family or surviving business partners must notify the company when the policyholder dies. The process is called filing a claim. And the assistance of an independent financial professional can prove invaluable.
It all begins with two key steps:
- Finding the life insurance policies that the deceased owned.
- Procuring multiple certified death certificates.
Occasionally people own life insurance policies but their own families are not made aware of their existence. Or, if they are, they cannot find the policies or any information. If the family or surviving business partners believe such life insurance policies existed, but do not know which companies issued the coverage, a seasoned independent financial professional knows that the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has created a Life Insurance Policy Locator.
The NAIC Life Policy Locator can assist consumers in locating life insurance policies and annuity contracts of a deceased family member or close relationship.
The Web Site is: https://eapps.naic.org/life-policy-locator/#/welcome.
The member companies will search their records to determine whether they have life policies or annuity contracts owned by the deceased. If found, these companies will contact the surviving family or business partners but only if they are the designated beneficiary or authorized legal representative.
Here are other ways that helpful independent financial professionals can guide the surviving family/business partners in their search for policies:
- Look through the decedent’s records, files, and safety deposit box.
- Contact the decedent’s previous employer to discover if the person may have been a certificate holder of an employer-provided group life policy.
- Review bank account statements to see if payment was being made to a life insurance company.
- Ask the decedent’s auto or home insurance agents if they had helped the decedent purchase life insurance through them.
Note: If you are an independent financial professional, remind all your clients who own life insurance to let their beneficiaries know that the life insurance policies exist. Otherwise, the beneficiaries won’t know they’re owed a death benefit. They will not know the loving intentions behind the policies.
Retrieving Death Certificates
A certified death certificate is needed to file a life insurance claim. A surviving family member or business partner can usually get a certified death certificate from a state/local health department. Many other financial institutions will also request certified death certificates.
To the family left behind, the death certificate is something that makes the loss very real and, suddenly, official.
I remember a financial advisor telling me that my own mother’s death certificate was actually a Certificate of Merit indicating that she had lived well and successfully passed through this world and was on her way to the next (and better) world.
Submitting the Claim
In addition to the death certificate, the deceased’s family will need other information, including:
- Name of insured
- Date of death
- Cause of death
- Place of death
- The claimant’s name
All this will be submitted to the life insurance company that will review the claim.
Again, these can be viewed as the following:
- The name of the deceased competitor
- The location of the finish line
- The time the race was completed
- The name(s) of the people who cheered the competitor all along
It is a privilege to develop and distribute financial products that translate good intentions into concrete acts of love. The financial services industry, and the life insurance industry in particular, facilitate the fulfillment of dreams that continue after we are gone.
Life Happens describes it this way: “The main reason to buy life insurance is because you love people and want to protect them financially.”5
Helping people purchase life insurance is an honorable mission. It is, however, only half-way to completion. Being there, serving the surviving family members and business partners, entering into their world of grief—that is the second half, and perhaps most important phase, of the mission.
The point of this article is simply to remind those of us involved in this meaningful industry that we need to take great care to use the right words when the promise of life insurance is fulfilled.
C.S. Lewis was torn on whether or not he wanted people to speak to him in his time of grief. “I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate if they do, and if they don’t.”6
In our business, we must show up, and we must be prepared to say the right things.
- “A Grief Observed,” by C.S. Lewis, N.W. Clerk publisher, 1961.
- “A Grief Observed,” by C.S. Lewis, N.W. Clerk publisher, 1961.