March 23, 2014


If I had a million dollars, well, I’d buy you an exotic pet. Yep, like a llama or an emu. — Barenaked Ladies
If you had a billion dollars, you could buy a whole zoo. Or $201 million of life insurance. That record-breaking purchase happened in California. The premium is about $2 million a year  but cost-effective — perhaps even a bargain.


Billionaires have the money to insure themselves to
  • pay medical expenses: no need for medical expense insurance
  • offset the costs of life-changing diseases: no need for critical illness insurance
  • replace income if unable to work: no need for disability insurance
  • provide lifelong income: no need for life annuities
Some afflictions have no cure at any price (and hence no insurance). RIP Steve Jobs (pancreatic cancer) and Warren Buffett’s wife Susie (oral cancer).

Life insurance is different. Large amounts are available and there is no substitute. Even so, why would a billionaire buy coverage?

Maintain Privacy

Life insurance protects the privacy of the buyer. Despite the media scrutiny, the owner of the $201 million of coverage remains anonymous. We know the gender (male) but not the age. The seller is ‘not legally permitted to disclose the name of the billionaire buyer but said it was a well-known Californian tech investor’ (Forbes). The insurers can’t say either. We wouldn’t have known about the purchase if the buyer hadn’t given permission for limited disclosure.

Since death benefits rarely through an estate, the beneficiaries need not be identified.

Have Flexibility

The beneficiaries are not notified until the time of a claim. This allows the buyer to change the beneficiaries and how much each receives.

The buyer can cancel or adjust the amount of coverage. In the case of the $201 million of coverage, the owner says that "he wants his next of kin to keep working hard" rather than waiting for a payoff.

The owner can reduce flexibility by making the beneficiaries irrevocable. This may be required upon divorce.

Save Or Grow A Business

A growing business may need outside money from lenders or investors. Those supporters want some assurances. The business might collapse upon the death of a key person like the owner, especially in the early years.

Ted Rogers is an excellent example. His dad died when Ted was only five: "He didn't have a lot of life insurance at that age, so the businesses were sold or shut or stolen."

In building Rogers, Ted borrowed from banks many times. They required he
have life insurance payable to them as protection. Term life insurance is ideal here --- the most coverage for the lowest price. Later, the temporary coverage can be made permanent for tax planning and estate planning.


You can put all your eggs in one basket and have that basket watched 24 hours a day. That doesn't mean problems won't arise. That basket may not be diversified. Billionaires have lost their fortunes (e.g., Allen Stanford, Sean Quinn, Patricia Kluge). Celebrities have gone broke too (e.g., Abraham Lincoln, Mike Tyson, Michael Jackson).

A solution is to invest in different classes of assets. Permanent life insurance allows, tax sheltered growth, tax-free access via leveraging and a tax-free death benefit. The payout is a predetermined amount at an unpredictable time (death). No other asset offers these characteristics.

Investments inside insurance may fluctuate and lack guarantees. That's true of investments outside life insurance too. However, permanent life insurance keeps growing in value because the date of death keeps getting closer. Can other investments make that claim?

What if an insurer goes bankrupt? There may be protection in those cases (e.g., by Assuris in Canada or a state government in the US). The risks are reduced by spreading coverage over multiple companies. The $201 million of coverage is spread over 19 insurers, each at risk for less than $20 million.

Pay Estate Liabilities

At death, large sums may be required to pay taxes and other obligations such as loans. Permanent life insurance is often the cheapest, fastest way to get cash for those liabilities. Also, there’s no need to have a rush sale on assets at an inopportune time. As a result, more of the estate gets preserved.


Life insurance is only available to the healthy. The unhealthy pay more (e.g., smokers). Sometimes the risks are so high that no coverage is available at any price.

There are limits to how much coverage is available on one life. Maybe $201 million is less than the buyer wanted. Insurers want to prevent incentives for
If the coverage gets cancelled before death, there won't be a payout. It helps to earmark money to pay future premiums.
If affording the life insurance becomes a problem, some jurisdictions allow the sale of the policy to an investor. These life settlements get icky because the buyer gets a higher return the sooner the death.

click to see original photoSurprises

Apparently, the advisor behind the $201 million of insurance (Dovi Frances) didn’t get paid a commission. The firm (SG LLC) “charges clients a flat (and one can assume, steep) annual fee for advisory services ranging from asset management to alternative investments.”

The advisor got the client 4-5 years ago through a direct mail campaign.


Billionaires have access to excellent advice from top advisors. They do buy life insurance. How about you?


PS There may be larger life insurance coverage on billionaires who value their privacy more than a Guinness World Record.

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