Is Your Employer Pension in Trouble?

Thanks to longer lifespans and many years of comparatively low interest rates depressing returns on pension fund investments and years of underfunding, many private pension funds are having trouble remaining solvent. This is particularly true for private multi-employer pension funds.

We do have a safety net – in theory. If the pension portfolio of investments is not enough to pay promised benefits to retirees, then the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a quasi-government agency that exists to protect workers from the prospect of failing pension plans, is supposed to take over the pension fund assets and pay out minimum promised benefits. The program is funded by charging pension funds a small premium for every plan participant, and protects about 41 million workers nationwide in 24,000 separate private pension plans.

However, a recent Heritage Foundation report concludes that multi-employer plans have been chronically overestimating investment returns and interest rates, while underestimating how long their plan participants will live, resulting in chronic and pervasive underfunding. Multi-employer plans seem to be at the highest risk if insolvency.

When these pension funds begin to fail, will the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation have the assets in hand to pick up the slack? Perhaps not: The PBGC’s board of directors raised the alarm in their 2014 Annual Report:

“BGC’s multiemployer program is itself on course to become insolvent with a significant risk of running out of money in as little as five years…. When the program becomes insolvent, PBGC will be unable to provide financial assistance to pay guaranteed benefits for insolvent plans.”

If enough multi-employer plans fail to cause the PBGC’s multi-employer program to become insolvent, that would put as many as 1 million workers out of the total of 10.4 million workers covered by the program at risk of receiving substantially lower pension benefits than they were originally promises. For example, the Government Accountability Office’s own report on the PBGC’s fiscal troubles states:

If the [multiemployer] fund were to be drained by the insolvency of a very large and troubled plan, we estimate the benefits paid by PBGC would be reduced to less than 10 percent of the guarantee level. In this scenario, a retiree who once received [a] monthly benefit of $2,000 and whose benefit was reduced to $1,251 under the guarantee would see monthly income further reduced to less than $125, or less than $1,500 per year.

That is, these workers could see promised benefits slashed to six cents on the dollar.

What is to be done?

For any individual company pension, the obvious solution is to tighten the company operating budget and find money to increase pension contributions. However, multi-employer plans are in a bind: If they increase mandatory contributions, the extra burden could cause some of their member firms to go out of business, or declare bankruptcy. At the policy level, it’s a tough nut to crack.

There are things that can be done at the individual level, however:

1.)   Don’t rely entirely on these pension plans for your retirement security.

2.)   Diligently save on your own in retirement accounts, defined contribution pensions such as 401(k)s, and the like.

3.)   Consider other tax-advantaged strategies for long-term savings, including annuities, which accumulate tax-deferred, and permanent (cash value) life insurance.

4.)   Save in taxable accounts as well.

5.)   Consider taking lump sum distributions from struggling pensions when they become available. You could take those balances and convert them into an annuity with a highly-rated insurance company with ample capacity to pay its claims, as opposed to a chronically underfunded and under-insured pension.

Latest Long-Term Care Insurance Changes Benefit Consumers Greatly

Several of the latest long-term care insurance options have features that give policyholders much better benefits and save them even more money. The American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance said that long-term care coverage providers keep adding more consumer-friendly features. With the most recent round of changes, policyholders will see more opportunities to save money on a wider variety of plans with varying options. The plans are designed to meet different lifestyles and the budgets of a wider variety of people.

One of the newest policies from a top long-term care insurance company was designed from a claimant’s standpoint. An attractive feature about that policy is its benefit of prepaid facility care. For those who require hospice care, there is also a new cash benefit. Both of these features are completely new to the market for long-term care policies. This policy and several other new long-term care policies will be available on the market during open enrollment. Americans who plan to purchase long-term care insurance can expect to see additional benefits added as each new open enrollment period arrives.

As experts pointed out, the newest type of policy with a prepayment feature for facility care means that policyholders will no longer have to pay large sums upfront and nervously wait to be reimbursed. Since the creators of this policy understand how much today’s average family struggles financially, they decided to ease that struggle with a few simple changes. Experts were enthusiastic about the new changes and what they mean for Americans. In comparison with the long-term care insurance plans in existence 10 or 20 years ago, these new innovative plans are completely different and much more useful to consumers.

When it comes to choosing current and future benefit amounts, the newest policies give policyholders more choices. The concepts of these policies are comparable to investment portfolios. For example, an investor will frequently review his or her portfolio to make necessary adjustments that result in a better financial stance. The newer policies offer flexible options that allow users to review their coverage periodically and make changes to adapt to their current financial situation and their anticipated future needs. People who are in their 50s or 60s should especially take advantage of these plans and explore their options.

The prices and provisions of policies vary from one company to another. It is important to choose one that best fits individual needs. Since every person has different financial and health requirements, the best way to pick the right policy is to discuss needs with an agent. An agent will know the latest changes and options and will also know how to explain the terms of each policy.

 

Does Your Insurance Cover Your Vacation Rental?

Spring vacation is just around the corner, and the extended family has rented a large beach house just a short walk from the water. The kids and grandkids are there; one even brought his dog. With 20 people in the house, there’s a lot of catching up, noise and confusion. Three people might be cooking dinner, and each of the three thinks the other two are watching the frying pan on the stove. Turns out that none of them are. In minutes, flames are shooting up out of the pan, scorching the walls and producing a good amount of smoke.

Fortunately, the fire is caught and put out before the whole building can burn, but the damage is more than noticeable. Clean up and repair will be expensive, and the house’s owner will not find this at all humorous. Everyone knows that an insurance company will have to get involved — but whose?

Renting vacation homes is a common occurrence. It gives families a comfortable place to stay other than a hotel. It also gives the property owner a good source of revenue. However, there are risks for both the owner and the renter. These include:

– The renter could damage the property

– One of the renters could be injured by an unsafe condition in the house

– A friend or family member visiting the renters for the day could be injured on the premises

– The renter’s dog could bite someone

– The renters could accidentally damage a neighboring house or injure someone staying there.

While Homeowners insurance policies are not exactly the same, almost all provide Personal Liability Coverage. This protects the people insured under the policy against claims or lawsuits accusing them of injuring another person or damaging another’s property. It also pays for the cost of legal services to defend against a lawsuit.

This coverage will pay if the renters are responsible for the injury to the friend visiting the house. It should also cover damages to neighboring houses and injuries to their occupants. It may pay for injuries and costs resulting from the dog bite. However, some policies contain clauses that eliminate coverage for dog bites; it is important for dog owners to know what coverage they have.  Some policies may have special conditions when the home is rented out. While homeowners policies do have off premise coverage when you occupy another residence, those coverages likely have limitations. Also please note, some vacation rental website listings services by provide additional coverage. 

Damage the renters may do to the house might be covered, but it depends on the cause of the damage. Many policies will cover fire, smoke or explosion damage to premises rented to or occupied by the people insured, but not other types of damage. The incident with the neglected frying pan would be covered because the damage was caused by fire and smoke. Damage caused by an overflowing bathtub would not be covered.

The house’s owner may have legal responsibility for a condition in the house that injures a renter or a visitor. If so, the owner’s liability insurance should cover medical expenses and related costs. It is wise to have an umbrella policy as this type of policy may cover gaps that a primary policy may not cover. It’s best to bring all variables to the attention of your agent and discuss strategices on how you can narrow any insurance gaps that may exist in rental situations.  Then all that will be left to do is pack the car, head to the beach, and enjoy the vacation.

 

Telecommuting is an Essential Part of a Business Continuity Plan

There are several factors that may lead to a temporary business closure. Bad weather, floods, construction and other incidents can leave a business out of operation for days, weeks or even months. One option to prevent business closure and promote continuity is telecommuting. This strategy continues growing in popularity with more businesses relying on virtual operations for many functions. With a good telecommuting strategy, employers and their employees can stay connected and continue virtual operations of the business through an IT network. Although telecommuting should not be the only continuity solution, it is an important option to implement for better business longevity protection. I

Identify Telecommuting Staff and Tasks There are several challenges in this step. However, it is important to analyze and organize information to determine which tasks and staff members are best suited for telecommuting. When choosing staff, it is important to pick people who are able to work on their own. If there are staff members who are unable to work on their own with very little direction, it may be best to delegate tasks to another member. While some workers may be self-starting stars, their jobs may not be appropriate for telecommuting. For example, a good worker who must access paper files and complete mostly hands-on tasks in the workplace would not be a good telecommuting candidate simply for the lack of resources at home or at a remote location.

Choosing which workers to assign telecommuting tasks to can be a delicate subject in the workplace. Some employees may feel that they are favored less than others. It is important to have a meeting with the staff and explain that some jobs are better suited for telecommuting. Addressing employee concerns is important to help workers remember that they are all valuable and vital parts of the workforce.

Formally Document the Telecommuting Policy After deciding which tasks and workers to make part of the telecommuting plan, write the plan out. Decide who will complete various tasks, how remote activation will take place, when activation will take place and how to notify non-telecommuting workers that they should not come to the office.

It is important to determine how remote work attendance will be verified and tracked. Outline any instructions or guidelines for employees who need to contact managers or other personnel by email, phone or video conference. If necessary, make an agreement form for telecommuting employees to sign that shows they understand their duties. Analyze what equipment and accessories employees have access to in their remote locations. It may be necessary to purchase additional computers, printers, fax machines or other equipment for them to use. If this is needed, make a purchase plan for these items.

Analyze Technology Requirements After determining if additional equipment is needed, it is important to think about networking components. Employees will need remote access to an IT network. Security and communications should be the top priority for planning a network. This is especially true if confidential and sensitive information is shared across channels. When using an IT network, make sure workers have access to support if they need it and there is no IT department in the workplace. All telecommuting workers should have the software, VPN access, security software and other programs necessary to perform business functions. If companies plan to install equipment in a worker’s home, it may also be necessary to coordinate VoIP telephone access for that individual.

When all of these factors have been addressed and the plan is drafted, it is time to purchase the necessary equipment and run a practice test. Schedule a day where telecommuting workers will be told to work remotely. Have them implement the strategy and measure the results. Was it a successful plan? Do any changes need to be made to help it run more efficiently? Make any modifications as necessary because it is important to be prepared when telecommuting is truly needed. To learn more about this option and other business continuity solutions, discuss concerns with an agent.

Americans Have Shortfalls with Retirement Savings

The Employee Benefit Research Institute published research findings that focused on retirement readiness. They sought to determine if most households were ready for retirement or if they would run out of money during that time. Their report expanded on prior analysis of the same topic.

EBRI’s report showed that people who were nearing retirement had savings deficits of nearly $20,000 per individual among married couples. For single women, the average deficit was over $60,000, and the average deficit for single males was more than $30,000. Although the RSS (Retirement Savings Shortfall) values may seem small, they reflect what may be decades of deficits. EBRI said that about half of the people were in an at-risk category.

Generation X participants had smaller RSS values because of more future eligibility time to participate in defined contribution plans. The simulated deficit values for that generation did not reflect future years of eligibility for defined contribution plans. For their generation, the average deficit was close to $80,000 per individual. Generation X members with less than 10 years of eligibility decreased to about $50,000, and those with less than 20 years had an estimated deficit of about $30,000. The average deficit for those with more than 20 years of eligibility decreased to slightly more than $15,000.

EBRI’s survey also showed the importance of long-term care costs and longevity risk in retirement planning. Ignoring these costs decreases the average RSS value by about 75 percent. Social Security retirement benefits are also impacted by RSS. This was shown in two different ways with EBRI’s research. There was a pro rata decrease of more than 20 percent shown to start in 2033. This would raise the RSS value by about 15 percent. If all benefits were removed in 2015, every generation’s average RSS value would increase drastically by an astounding 90 percent.

For all households in the United States where the leading earner was between the ages of 25 and 64, the aggregate deficit was about $4.13 trillion. When Social Security benefit reductions were estimated in a simulation to start in 2033, the aggregate deficit rose to $4.38 trillion. If Social Security benefits were instead assumed to be discontinued in 2015, the aggregate deficit rose dramatically to $7.87 trillion, which was an increase of nearly 90 percent. EBRI’s report highlights the importance of preparing for retirement and preparing as early as possible. To learn more about options, discuss concerns with an agent.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Term and Permanent Life Insurance

While life insurance may seem confusing and is not a topic people want to address, it is important to have life insurance and to pick the right type of policy. There are different options, and the right option for one person may not necessarily be the right option for another person. Each one has advantages and disadvantages.

Term Life Insurance As its name implies, term life insurance provides coverage for a specific term or amount of time. If the person outlives that term, it is necessary to obtain a new policy or renew the existing one. This type of policy is optimal for people who do not expect to outlive the term. Some people buy life insurance based on a period of potential need. For example, a person who wants to make sure her new baby is able to go to college someday may choose a term of 20 years. In the event the woman dies after 17 years, there will be money for the child’s college fund by the time that child is old enough to attend college. Term life insurance typically has lower premiums and is a good solution for people who are budgeting. There are also convertible term life insurance policies. These make it possible to upgrade a term policy to a permanent one for a higher premium. This is a good option for people who are on a tight budget but expect their finances to be looser in the future.

Permanent Life Insurance People who want to avoid having to possibly renew a policy or find a new one later on often choose a form of permanent life insurance. These policies pay a death benefit whether the policyholder dies in 100 years or in 10 days. There are several different types such as universal life, variable life and a combination of the two. Many people also choose permanent life insurance to enjoy a tax-deferred savings element. If there is a major emergency several years in the future, the policyholder may borrow a certain amount of the accumulated funds. Some people may also borrow funds to simply pay the life insurance premium to keep the policy active when money is tight. There are no credit requirements for borrowing money from the policy. When policyholders take out a loan against the total death benefit and die before the amount is repaid, the amount owed is subtracted from the total death benefit. The beneficiary receives the remaining amount.

The premiums for permanent life insurance are higher than they are for term life insurance. However, policyholders pay the same premium for the entire length of the policy with a permanent option. Policyholders who choose term life will pay more later on because of their age if they renew the policy. To learn more about term life insurance options or the different types of permanent life insurance, discuss concerns with an agent.

Fraudulent Auto Repairs and Insurance Scams Cost Drivers Money, Time and Safety

Finding a reliable auto repair shop is important for all drivers. A good mechanic can prevent serious accidents by detecting problems early and can also help a vehicle owner save money. Although most auto shops are honest, some dishonest ones cast a negative shadow on mechanics everywhere. It is important to know how they target drivers and how to fight back.

Common Scams:

Padded Charges With this scam, a shop worker offers a customer a reasonable initial estimate. However, the final bill shows costs greatly exceeding that estimate. Another method is leaving the estimate box empty on a work authorization form. When the vehicle owner signs the form, the mechanic can write in an inflated number and try to use the form as proof of authorization.

Unnecessary Repairs Mechanics may perform repairs that are not necessary. They usually suggest repairs that are pricey and beyond the common knowledge of most drivers.

Using Fake Parts Using counterfeit parts is a dangerous practice. Some shops use these parts or salvaged ones instead. In addition to this, a shop may actually charge a customer for a new part but use a salvaged part.

Poor Work Quality While some mechanics may perform substandard work, others may not perform any work at all. Customers are still billed for the shoddy work or nonperformance of necessary work.

Discounts And Maintenance Many repair shops advertise low prices for a specific service. When customers arrive to take advantage of the special, they are often conned into buying additional services or find that the discounted price is a base price that excludes several required add-ons.

Consumers Pay The Costs

Poor-quality repairs are costly to drivers and their families in many ways. Some people unfortunately lose their lives because of faulty repairs or issues that are ignored by mechanics. Substandard repairs can also cost people thousands of dollars in damages. One real example involved a driver whose steering column was fixed using only a flimsy coat hanger. When it broke, the car veered into a house. In such an incident, the driver is the at-fault party, and the driver’s insurance company must typically pay for the damages. The faulty work could result in an insurance premium hike for the driver. Since the costs of fraudulent mechanics are passed on to insured motorists through increased premiums, this is another way fraudulent repairs affect insurance costs. In addition to monetary and physical damages, shoddy repairs can cause people stress and waste their time. It is frustrating to take a car back to a shop multiple times for a simple issue.

How To Fight Back

The best way to avoid these problems is to find a trustworthy mechanic, build a good working relationship and use that person’s services on a long-term basis. This is a good way to get better prices as well. To find a good mechanic, ask friends, family members and coworkers for suggestions. Check with the local Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against any mechanics who are being considered. Always ask a mechanic for a written estimate when something is wrong. The estimate must include both labor and parts. Do not sign the form until the estimate is agreeable and is written clearly in pen.

If a mechanic suggests a plan to waive a deductible, turn it down. This usually involves fraudulently billing the insurer for a new part but using a salvaged one. Keep in mind that the cost of fraud is passed on to all insured drivers through higher premiums. Look around the shop when visiting. Awards and certifications are important to look for. The Automotive Service Excellence Seal is one example.

Lastly, ask to examine the repairs before leaving. A good mechanic will be glad to point them out and explain what was done and why it was done. To learn more about finding a good mechanic or for local recommendations, discuss concerns with an agent.

Meeting the Responsibilities for a Safe Workplace

More than 13 workers died from workplace injuries every day in 2014. In addition, there were almost 3 million non-fatal injuries on the job for the year. For many Americans, going to work each day is a dangerous proposition.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act places responsibilities on employers to make their workplaces as safe as possible. These responsibilities include:

  • Provide a workplace free from recognized serious hazards, whether they be slippery walking surfaces, electrical hazards, heavy materials, or explosive substances.
  • Comply with the standards, rules and regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. These vary by the type of operation. Employers should become familiar with those that apply to their particular industries.
  • Make sure employees have and use well-maintained, safe tools and equipment. Repair or replace tools and equipment that are showing signs of wear.
  • Warn employees of potential hazards. These warnings can take the form of anything attention-grabbing, such as signs, posters, colored codes and labels.
  • Create written operating procedures and update them as necessary. These procedures should address health and safety issues. Make sure employees know them.
  • Provide safety training to employees in forms they can understand. That may mean providing it in multiple languages.
  • Some workplaces use hazardous chemicals. If so, the employers must develop and implement written hazard communication programs. They must train employees on the proper precautions to take. Material safety data sheets on these substances should be available upon demand.
  • OSHA standards may require some employers to provide employees with medical exams and training.
  • OSHA has created a poster about employee rights and responsibilities. Employers must display it in a prominent place.
  • Promptly report to OSHA all work-related deaths and serious injuries. Fatalities must be reported within eight hours; other injuries requiring hospitalization must be reported within a day. OSHA has a toll-free phone number for reporting.
  • Most employers with more than 10 employees must keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Current and former employees and their representatives must be given access to the injury log. From February 1 to May 1 each year, employers must post a summary of the injury log.
  • Provide employees or their representatives with access to medical and exposure records.
  • Give OSHA compliance officers the names of employee representatives who may accompany them during inspections.
  • Do not discriminate against employees who exercise their rights under the OSH Act.
  • Post OSHA citations at or near the work area involved in the citation. Keep them posted until the problem is corrected or for three days, whichever is longer.
  • Correct cited violations by the deadline set in the OSHA citation. Submit to OSHA any required documentation of abatement verification.
  • Consider adopting Injury and Illness Prevention Programs. OSHA offers samples of these programs on its Web site. Many insurance companies offer them as well.

Some occupations will never be completely safe. However, the law requires employers to protect their workers to the extent possible. Following the law will help keep workers safe, morale high, and costs low.

Health Care Reform: What to Expect in 2016

Premiums Will Increase.

Broadly speaking, look for premiums to increase in 2016. According to the Spring Healthcare Trend Survey from Wells Fargo Insurance, 65 health insurers surveyed indicated that overall claim costs increased by 7 to 10 percent, before any changes in plan designs. Those increases and more are eventually going to show up in insurance premiums going into 2016. Indemnity-type plans seem to be showing somewhat higher claims increases than HMOs, but all types of plans are showing increases from between 7 and 10 percent.

Also contributing to claims increases: Hikes in generic drug prices, as well as the increased use of expensive specialty biotechnology drugs, including Abilify and Crestor.

The study aside, though, we’ve already seen some major carriers with big market shares in individual states file for some major premium increases:

 

  • CareFirst Blue Cross of Maryland requested a 34 percent premium increase for its PPO plan, and another 26.7 percent hike in its HMO.

 

  • Wellmark Blue Cross of Iowa filed for a 43 percent premium increase, while Coventry asked for an 18 percent hike for its Iowa members.

 

  • Moda asked to raise premiums on its Oregon beneficiaries by 25.6 percent, and Lifewise applied for a 38.5 percent increase.

 

  • Highmark has already asked for increase of 13.5 percent to 39.65 percent in Pennsylvania, and Geisinger HMO has asked to hike their premiums by 40.6 percent to 58.4 percent.

 

  • Humana’s Georgia plan is asking for premium increases of 14.8 to 19.44 percent.[1]

 

In some cases companies are totally redesigning their plans, so there is no real direct comparison between this years’ and next years’ pricing structures.

 

Companies Will Scale Back “Cadillac” Plans.

Analysts also expect to see a series of changes to so-called “Cadillac plans,” in an effort to avoid a 40 percent surcharge on some of these plans beginning in 2018. According to the Wells Fargo survey, some 38 percent of large employer plans will be impacted, either by the tax, or by changes to these plans in the effort to avoid the tax.

The Wells Fargo survey also found that insurers expect to see continued expansion of the role of employee wellness initiatives of various stripes, and continuing pressure to narrow networks of providers.

We will also likely see some changes to network designs and an increase in the number of so-called “tiered” networks. These networks retain a narrow-network base, but also provide some more limited coverage for certain providers who are “outside the plan.” These systems seek to encourage plan participants to use in-network providers, but also allowing for some flexibility to use other providers.

The Affordable Care Act Will Not Be Repealed.

Currently, it’s far too soon to call the Presidential election, of course. But even if a Republican wins the White House, it is unlikely that the Affordable Care Act will be repealed outright following the 2016 elections. Republicans are simply unlikely to have the votes.

Politically, the stars favor Democrats for the 2016 Congressional elections. Why? 24 Republican Senators are up for reelection in 2016, compared to only 10 Democrats. That’s a substantial opportunity for Democrats to gain seats in individual races, while risking relatively few of their own. Furthermore, none of those Democrats are up for reelection in states that voted for Romney. So Republicans may well be able to retain their majority – but they will likely be unable to muster the 60 votes needed to break cloture and bring a full Obamacare repeal to the floor for a vote.

Lack of Clarity Leaves Widow in Legal Battle over Life Insurance Policy

Life insurance is an important part of every family’s financial plan. Families need the right kind of life insurance (term, whole life, universal life, etc.). They also need enough coverage to replace the policyholder’s income if he or she dies. There is another decision to which families may not give much thought: Who will receive the insurance benefits at the time of a claim.

In many cases, the beneficiary will be the person’s spouse. However, there can be situations where the policyholder wants the proceeds to go to more than one family member. In such a situation, it is essential that the policyholder give clear instructions to the insurance agent and company. A widow in Iowa learned this lesson too late.

Mr. Pitts assumed an obligation to provide $35,000 of life insurance payable to his two year-old daughter as part of his child support obligation. This obligation was to last until the girl turned 18 or finished her schooling, whichever came later. Four years after the divorce, he remarried. The new couple met with an insurance agent to discuss buying life insurance that would both fulfill his child support obligation and provide benefits for Mrs. Pitts. They bought a policy. Over the next three years, Mr. Pitts designated beneficiaries three times.

 Initially, the daughter was to receive $50,000 and the wife was to receive any leftover proceeds. Two years later, he submitted a new form which assigned $35,000 to his daughter and the balance to his wife. Eight months after that, he submitted another beneficiary change, but the form was illegible.

After the girl’s 18th birthday, Mr. Pitts allegedly asked the agent to change the beneficiary again so that she would not receive any of the proceeds. Mrs. Pitts said that she believed her husband completed the necessary paperwork, but she was unsure what he did with it. However, she also said that the insurance agent told her husband and her in separate conversations that the daughter was no longer a beneficiary under the policy.

Following the death of Mr. Pitts two years later, his widow filed a claim for the entire $108,000 proceeds from the policy. She was informed that the daughter would receive $35,000 and she would receive the rest. She sued the agent and the insurance company. Five years after her husband’s death, the case had gone through three levels of state courts and was still tangled up in legal proceedings.

Because Mr. Pitts did not give clear written instructions to his insurance agent, his wife spent years in court trying to obtain her expected benefits. He may well have intended for her to receive all of the proceeds, but his failure to submit the paperwork prevented that from happening. This case illustrates the importance of documenting instructions to an insurance agent or company. It also shows that policyholders should review their policies to ensure that they are accurate. It is not enough to take someone’s word for it.

This mistake created needless financial difficulty and heartache for a woman who lost her husband. All insurance buyers should learn from her experience and make sure they give clear instructions