Suzanne Allen first discovered there was a tumour in her pancreas in the fall of 2004. At first, doctors presumed it was benign. Allen (not her real name) was in her forties, otherwise in good health and had been running a successful business in Montreal as a sole proprietor specializing in mutual funds and disability benefits.
She kept quiet about the medical tests and carried on with her business. Six months later, doctors confirmed there were pre-cancerous cells and said she would have to have her pancreas removed imminently.
“I had ten days to prepare,” says Allen. “I had fully expected the final tests would show a need for minor surgery, but I hadn’t mentally prepared for the possibility of being off work for an extended period of time.”
She first contacted her closest clients and told them she would be going in for a minor medical procedure.
From there, Allen was ready to put her business into autopilot. As a specialist in disability benefits, she’d long believed in leading by example. When she first started her business in 1989, she purchased a long-term disability income protection plan and business overhead program to insure her against this exact type of scenario.
Allen also had established a formal contingency plan that allowed her to reach out to a fellow licensed advisor to take over her business for what she initially anticipated would be a month to six weeks.
“I had often teamed up with this advisor over the years,” explains Allen. “We would cover off each other’s vacations and she was able to provide all the service work, and reinvestments that I would do, and my clients knew her already. Because I had my insurance in place, I was able to pay her a full-time salary without losing my commission.”
It turned out Allen didn’t go back to her office for a year. Despite this, business ran smoothly. Even in her darkest moments—when she was on morphine drips and losing her hair—she felt secure that her powers of attorney and business succession plans were locked in.
“I knew that if I didn’t wake up, my clients would be okay,” says Allen.
Allen’s due diligence is not common practice, says Carol-lee Whipple, owner of Women’s Insurance and Investment Network in Ottawa.
“Most advisors are like the shoemaker with the bad shoes,” says Whipple. “They take care of everyone else and forget their own situations.”
Whipple recommends all advisors secure policies covering critical illness and disability while they’re young and healthy.
“Don’t put off making these decisions because the cost of putting them off is that you could be uninsurable, or the price is going to be much higher,” says Whipple.
As for Allen, she believes it’s necessary for advisors to recognize their mortality, and to consider who would take over their clients if they are suddenly out of commission.
“I have long had a succession plan in place and powers of attorney in place, in the event of my death or disability,” says Allen. “My clients have made me successful—the least I could do for them is make sure that there is someone to take care of them.”