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Learning the Lesson of Persistence

The death of a close family friend is made more painful by the ill-timed lapse of a life insurance policy.

By Chuck Jones

Lisa Marie Lassow, 36, an agent with Northwestern Mutual in Norwalk, Conn., learned a hard lesson in persistence when she let her ex-husband’s best friend lapse a policy she had sold him.

About two and half years ago, Lassow, who has been in the insurance business six years, sold a $100,000 whole life policy to a 32-year-old part-owner in a local construction business whom we’ll call Bill. Bill owned the business with his father, who had started the firm nearly 20 years earlier.

But Bill was more than a local businessman to Lassow. He was the best friend of the agent’s ex-husband and avuncular buddy to her two small daughters, who called him “Uncle Billy.”

“He never missed one of our daughter’s birthdays, ball games or dance recitals,” Lassow says. “He had dinner with us at least once a week. And he and my ex-husband, well, they’d play sports together, watch sports together, go out together.”

Although Bill was young, single and lived with his father, Lassow says he felt he needed life insurance. “He wanted the whole life policy in order to guarantee his insurability,” she explains. “He knew that he wanted to get married and have a family someday. He also bought it as a way to secure future funding. Up until then, he really hadn’t done anything in the way of retirement planning. This was a way for him to possess a valuable asset for his future needs.”

Lassow sold Bill, whose yearly income was about $75,000, a $100,000 Northwestern Mutual whole life policy. Bill made his mother, father and brother the beneficiaries. Bill was a healthy nonsmoker, so his premium was $120 per month.

Allowing it to laspse
Before his policy had hit the half-year mark, Bill lapsed it. “He made about five payments, then stopped,” Lassow recalls. “I got notice that he wasn’t paying his premiums, so I gave him a call and asked him why he stopped paying.

“He told me that business was not good,” she continues. “He told me that money was tight, so he had to let the insurance go. Even though I tried to persuade him to keep the coverage, he didn’t seem too worried about dropping it.

“I tried to save the case, but the truth is, I didn’t put 100 percent into it,” Lassow admits. “I didn’t want to badger such a good friend and have any hard feelings.”

In October 2002, 18 months after Bill lapsed his policy, the 34-year-old was at his father’s house, where he lived in an upstairs apartment. His mother was visiting her son and her ex-husband for Bill’s birthday, but Bill wasn’t feeling well enough to be jolly. “He went to lay down in his apartment upstairs,” Lassow recalls.

“His mother found his body lying on the upstairs couch. He had been dead for several hours.”

The next morning, Bill’s father arose early and left for work at a construction site. He assumed his son would soon be awake and off to work, too. Bill’s mother telephoned him at 8 a.m. but got no answer. At 9 o’clock, she was knocking on his front door, but still didn’t get an answer. She then let herself in with a key and worriedly went to check on her son.

“His mother found his body lying on the upstairs couch,” Lassow says. “He had been dead for several hours.

“I was on my way to an appointment that morning,” she recalls. “My ex-husband broke the news to me over the phone. I was in shock. I just turned the car around and drove straight to Bill’s house.”

Lassow arrived to find Bill’s mother and father and her ex-husband standing around the outside of the house. The police were also there, and the entrances to the house were blocked with police tape. “Even though almost everyone was convinced that Bill had a heart attack, the police were called in to investigate,” she says. “He was a young man, apparently healthy, and he died. The police are always called in on circumstances like that.”

Facing the family
At the funeral, Lassow mentioned to Bill’s parents the life insurance policy Bill once owned and let lapse. “I said, ‘Sorry about the policy,’” Lassow says, “and the father just shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Yeah.’ I know the parents didn’t really need the death benefit, but I also know it would have helped.

“I’m still upset with myself that I didn’t fight for that case more than I did,” she says. “Because of Bill, I learned that just because someone is young and has no family of his own, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t need the coverage.” As a result of Bill’s case, Lassow now has her clients sign a letter that explains the consequences of having a policy lapse. “I have no such letter in Bill’s file,” she says. “That will never be the case again.”

Losing Bill has devastated Lassow’s family. “I feel bad for my two daughters,” she says. “For them, there’s no more Uncle Billy. And for my ex-husband,” she sighs forlornly, “he watches Monday Night Football by himself now.”

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