Our family and life experiences play a major part in our view of planning and risk. Each family’s ethos is formed over years of experiences. Though all families share similarities and differences, I believe the common denominator is that all families and individuals, wish and work for happiness, health and wealth. In this publication, I will share the experiences I’ve had over 25 years of working with families to help them plan their financial lives.
My Career Path Was Set for Me Long Before I Knew It
March 1, 1990 - I was a 16-year-old high school junior in Weirton, WV. Like many other teenage boys, my thoughts were more focused on sports and girls, than my future career.
I remember the events of that day so clearly. I was just beginning basketball practice, when I missed a shot from the corner, and it careened off to the side of the court. After picking up the ball, I turned back toward the basket and saw my mother standing with my father’s secretary, just inside the gym door.
As I approached, I immediately knew something was wrong. My father had suddenly died, suffering a massive heart attack at the age of 50.
Picking Up the Pieces
Like many physicians, in my opinion, my father was brilliant when it came to helping patients, but horrible as a steward of our family’s finances and planning.
In the days following his death, we learned that my father had not planned for the unexpected. He was in the process of transitioning back into private practice from his role as the Medical Director of our local hospital. During that transition, he shifted to part time at the hospital, which eliminated his life insurance benefits. In the end, my father had only a small life insurance policy that didn’t provide enough capital to pay off the mortgage on our home, let alone replace his income.
My father used an old friend as his insurance advisor. No offense to insurance agents that sell predominantly auto and homeowners insurance, but he was not a proactive financial advisor to our family. Had my father done a better job selecting his advisor, maybe a proactive plan would have been established. The blame certainly doesn’t fall solely on my father’s insurance agent. My father had equal, if not more, responsibility to plan for his family.
The stress was evident in my mother’s face as we began to put the pieces together. Our worst fears were confirmed when our insurance agent cried in our living room as he explained the lack of planning and death benefits. He was a good man and felt the weight of our family’s future on his shoulders. I never blamed him or my father because I knew it wasn’t intentional, just poor planning.
Later that day, I answered a knock at the front door. One of the doctors that worked for my father at the hospital handed me an envelope. He said that my father’s friends and colleagues heard about the lack of insurance and chipped in what they could. Inside the envelope was $50,000. That act of kindness has had a profound effect on my life.
My mother boot strapped our financials and kept everything together. However, sometimes when it rains, it pours. Although my mother was a nurse by training, she hadn’t worked in medicine in 18 years, since my sister was born. She had changed career paths and was teaching piano and voice lessons in a local music store. Six weeks after my father passed, the music store announced that it was closing its doors and going out of business. Many would have crumbled under the pressure that weighed on my mother. Thankfully, she was and still is, a tough, determined (sometimes hard-headed) woman.
She took the small insurance check and started her own music and art school, which she still owns and operates to this day, 30 years later. At the age of 46, I am not sure many would have had the faith that they could make it, but she did.
Four years later, when I was a sophomore at West Virginia University, I received a call from a total stranger named Dave Milne. Dave was a District Agent for Northwestern Mutual Life. He invited me to lunch to talk about a career opportunity. At first, I passed on the opportunity. The thought of being a life insurance agent had never crossed my mind. My plans were to finish my undergraduate degree and go to law school.
That night, I couldn’t stop thinking about his call. My mind kept taking me back to the day that my father’s insurance agent cried as he told my family that my father had very little life insurance. My path started to become clear to me. The next day, I called back and accepted the meeting. At lunch, Dave never mentioned the products or types of services that were sold by his agents. He was only interested in my story and getting to know me. He told me that the business was about building relationships and helping families. His ability to connect with me was amazing. He listened intently to my story. When I shared the story about my father, he told me that I would be a perfect fit because I had an authentic personal experience and that I knew the value of what I would be selling. Looking back, he was doing what he did every day with his clients. Listening first. Getting to know their most personal hopes and fears.
As a “college agent”, I was trained in the area of life insurance, as well as, financial and estate planning. Although there were times that I didn’t love the grind of the insurance business, I had a passion for helping families avoid the situation my family experienced. I stayed on after college and took a full-time opportunity with Northwestern Mutual on Dave’s team. I developed an interest in estate planning. I always laugh when I think back on my eagerness to learn about all aspects of the estate and gift tax laws and how to plan around them. It is funny because none of my clients had a wealth even close enough to having an estate tax issue. The training and my enthusiasm opened doors in my career, first as Director of Estate Planning for a corporate executive benefits firm, then to a partnership in an estate and financial planning firm in Naples, FL.
Wisdom in Wealth
As I reflect on the past 25+ years, I have come a long way from being a college agent, to the Co- Founder and CEO of a firm that helps clients and families across the nation - managing over $1.5 Billion in assets.
Just like my story formed my career, it also played an important role in how I view, not only our clients’ planning, but also my own. I will never make the mistake of ignoring the risks and opportunities that families face throughout their wealth journey.
Through this publication I hope to provide you with tools and ideas that will assist you in your own wealth journey. I believe I can provide this wisdom through sharing the experiences and stories I have encountered over the course of my career. There is a lot of wisdom that can be gleaned from the experiences of others. My hope is that you will take away at least one thought or idea that will help you on your wealth journey.
Welcome, to Wisdom in Wealth.