The plus side of special-needs planning

Jerry Hulick, CLU, ChFC, CLTC, leads the Special Care Planning Team for The Washington Group, one of the largest agencies in the country affiliated with Massachusetts Mutual Life (MassMutual). He and his eight special care planners operate out of a small office in Fairfax, Va. ... The Special Care Planning Team is a genuine labor of love for Jerry -- a second career he launched in 2005 after retiring as general agent of The Washington Group. Building the team represents a fusion of the personal and professional drivers in his life: to serve organized charities and to develop planners who can make a difference for their special-needs clientele.

Families who have members with special needs require very different financial and estate planning services from those offered to "mainstream" families. "The big issue is to make sure the planning does not inadvertently leave an asset to a person with special needs, because in doing so, you would disenfranchise that person from eligibility for government benefits," Jerry says. "It's very similar to eldercare planning, or Medicaid planning, except that you're dealing with a lifelong situation.

"Special needs families are incredible people. They are dealing with so much. They're very straightforward about what's important and what's not. And there's a huge need for planning. One of every five families is connected to a person with special needs."

Jerry has spoken to numerous agencies, inside and outside the MassMutual system, about the potential for special-needs planning as a source of new business. The first myth he dispels is that special-needs families have lower incomes and don't have money to apply to their needs.

"Special needs crosses economic lines and cultural lines, and it crosses into businesses, even though the corporate world doesn't understand it yet," he says. "Special needs is not a market -- it's a dimension of any and every market.

"When I go speak to other agencies, I'll say, 'You tell me what market you want to be in, and you start your normal marketing. Meanwhile, I'll lead with special needs, and I will get to your market before you do. While you're banging on the front door, I'll go in the side door, through the networking of special needs -- the nonprofit organizations like The Arc (formerly the Association for Retarded Citizens), the Down syndrome and autism groups, and Easter Seals.

"Once I establish a level of trust, I am invited in that side door because of the uniqueness of special-needs planning as a differentiator. And the interconnectedness, once you get into this, is absolutely amazing."

The Special Care Planning Team has carefully nurtured close ties with many nonprofit organizations, some of which were clients of Jerry's long before he formed the team. The planners hold financial seminars under the nonprofit's endorsement or independently, but always working within the tight-knit special-needs networks. They promote the seminars through regular newsletters. Attorneys often join in the seminar presentations.

"It's all integrated back to a marketing process with the nonprofit organizations, built on regular contact through regular seminars," Jerry says. "When you're legitimate about it, and the families see that you're real, it has a huge impact on your credibility, because there are so few people who really understand their needs and engage them."

Editor's note: The preceding article has been excerpted from "The Impresario of Empathy," the Producer Profile feature in the June 2008 issue of Life Insurance Selling featuring Jerry Hulick, CLU, ChFC, CLTC. Click here to read the entire article, including much more about marketing strategies for reaching families with children with special needs.

To read last week's Words from the Wise, click here.

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