"I can't access my own money [which is in an insurance policy], but having that money in my name is blocking me from getting benefits and help with an attorney," J says. "Would you believe that a forgery by one person would land someone else homeless on the street?"
J says the situation started when his grandmother decided to buy him and his brother an insurance policy on her life.
"The intent was to give us some of her estate," J says. "But, she was taken advantage of by her insurance agent. She bought a quarter of a million dollar policy death benefit on her life. But here's the thing, my brother and I are owners of this policy—even though we never signed anything to say we would be the owners of the policy. The owner has to sign a piece of paper to acknowledge ownership because there are tax benefits. To simply be a beneficiary, nothing has to be signed. Nothing was sent to me, I was told at the time that I was a beneficiary on the policy. It is common to think that you are the beneficiary and not the owner. That was in 1997 and I was a medical resident at the time.
"In order to get the most commission, the agent had to sell the policy as an estate-planning tool, but Grandma didn't have a big enough estate to need the benefits he was selling. She needed to gift out the maximum amount of the premium every year. She gifted us each $10,000 a year for seven years. We got the money and sent it back to her via the insurance money. We were told that the policy was bought and that was how we would save death taxes. We didn't know that wasn't true. When your grandma does that for you, you say thank you, you don't look into it.
"The insurance agent and Grandma handled all the work. This product, at face value, was not worthless, but Grandma was 73 when she purchased it and she wanted my brother and I to have her money when she died. She is now 86; if she survives 6 years there is no money left and it is worth zero because the premiums go up. But that is not how the policy was sold. She was not told that the death benefit would go down without more premiums put in. We put that $10,000 each in for 7 years, thought that was it and the policy would grow. There was $140,000 put in by the end of that seventh year.
"The owners of a policy are the ones with the contract but the contract was never given to us. None of us knew about this because the contract was sent to Grandma's house. The insurance agent collected the premiums and got first check personally. Grandma paid the first premium and we paid remaining 7 years. There is a lot of intention here for him to cover up so that we would not see the contract until she died. We paid in full, thinking that when she died we would get $250,000. But we really were getting the death benefit, [which may not be equal to $250,000]."
"The insurance agent duped her, took advantage of her and manipulated her, but he didn't take her money, he took ours because she gifted it to us. The insurance agent was scamming an elder. His commission was $22,000 out of $144,000 that was put in.
"I took the papers that I supposedly signed [to become the owner of the policy] to a forgery expert, so I have proof that I didn't sign them.
In 2005, J became sick. He was unable to manage his own affairs and turned control of his assets over to his family, who paid for his health insurance through his assets. His grandmother wanted to help him out financially, so she tried to borrow money from her insurance policy.
"The agent said that she could not borrow the money off the account," J says. "I got suspicious because I knew that if you put $140,000 in the policy and have a cash value account, you should be able to borrow money off the account. I asked about seeing a copy of the policy but the agent wanted nothing to do with that. It took months and then I finally went around him and then went to his company. They finally got back to me that my brother and I needed to sign some papers to release the money.
"We wrote a joint letter [giving their grandmother permission to borrow the money] and we get a letter back saying that the signatures on the letter don't match the signatures on file. How could it not match when we didn't sign anything? I looked at my grandmother's contract and our signatures aren't on the contract. The company said that my brother and I are owners and are in complete control of the policy.
"I didn't know the policy was fraudulent, I was just suspicious."
In the meantime, J continued to struggle with his illness and ran out of money. His employment until he was sick consisted of being trained as a surgeon, which does not count towards SSI benefits, so J applied for disability and multiple doctors stated how severe his illness was. Unfortunately, the life insurance policy J's grandmother took out for him and his brother counted against him. Because J is listed as an owner of the policy, he does not qualify for disability benefits.
"I have nothing. I have been living in my car and my doctor continues to treat me pro bono, even to this day, and helps me get compassionate fills from the pharmacy. I was first denied SSDI in March 2007. A year went by with me fighting the insurance company and they are still ignoring the forgeries. Then, I find out that the policy is dwindling in assets and that the benefits are nothing if she [J's grandmother] survives past a certain age. She bought this as a whole life policy.
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"This all started with an insurance agent who wanted a big, fat commission. The insurance company assures my grandmother that when she dies we will get the death benefit—but they don't say we will get $250,000, just that we will get the death benefit. It's tricky wording so you don't know what is going on."