Breaking the Cycle

Photo by Greg Kiger

One of V. Kenneth Johnson’s most pressing goals in life is to “break the cycle of passing on ‘lack’ from one generation to the next.” For him, wealth preservation is key.

Johnson’s father, Gilford, made great strides in his own life. He owned and operated a dry cleaning store (part of a chain owned by his brother-in-law) and was a great saver. But after many years in business, Gilford closed the shop in the late 1970s, missing an opportunity to use the family enterprise as a way to jump-start the wealth-building process for his son. “My father did not understand generational wealth,” says Johnson. “Back in those days, most didn’t understand. No one talked to us about insurance policies, 401(k) plans, mutual funds, or tax advantaged or estate planning.”

A recent survey by U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management reports that 27% of even the wealthiest Americans “have never discussed intergenerational wealth transfer with their adviser.” Moreover, 37% “have never discussed their legacy goals,” and 44% “have never discussed their philanthropic” goals with their adviser.

Learning financial management skills and teaching those principles to children isn’t a duty reserved for the rich. Johnson believes that even working-class and middle-class parents who don’t have the means to offer an inheritance of stocks, bonds, real estate, or a family business can leave their children a legacy in the form of a life insurance policy.

Johnson, 55, is a 22-year agent with the New York Life Insurance Co. in Creve Coeur, Missouri, who oversees more than $100 million in life insurance policies. He has ensured that some 30 family members purchased policies that provide total coverage of about $15 million. “I’m so proud that we started with our family and to see the legacies that are being created as a result of the work we’ve done together,” says Johnson.

Johnson, along with his wife, Marsha, and 24-year-old son, Justin, each have more than $1 million worth of coverage made up of a combination of whole life, variable universal life, and term products. (Whole life and variable universal life, in addition to providing the death benefit, have cash value accumulation features that can be accessed on a tax-favored basis. Term insurance, which does not provide a cash value accumulation feature, usually costs much less, though the premium will generally increase at some point in the future.)