My Father’s Daughter

Dana Ferris

MY LATE FATHER SPENT his entire career, from the time he dropped out of college to marry my mother until the day he died at age 61, in the insurance business. My father was also a huge fan of the San Francisco 49ers, our hometown NFL team.

Last year, the 49ers cruised through the playoffs, led by the team’s dynamic young quarterback, Brock Purdy. But then, in the NFC Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Purdy was injured early in the game. The backup quarterback then went down with a concussion. The 49ers had to play more than half the game without a functioning quarterback. The Eagles won easily and advanced to the Super Bowl.

The NFC Championship debacle prompted the 49ers to sign an experienced young quarterback named Sam Darnold to be Purdy’s backup. As it happens, Purdy stayed healthy this season and Darnold has hardly played at all. Still, my father would have approved: Darnold is the insurance that helps 49ers’ management—and the team’s fans—sleep better at night.

As an insurance man’s daughter, I got the message early and often that life is full of uncertainties and even danger, and that there’s no such thing as too much insurance. But as I’ve gone through life and started questioning various beliefs, especially about personal finance, I wonder if I’ve occasionally overdone things.

Insurance we have now. We currently have insurance for life, health, dental, vision, our cars, our home, umbrella-liability and long-term care.

Insurance we’ve dropped or soon will. My husband and I purchased our term-life policies from my dad when our kids were born. We wanted to not only protect them, but also provide for each other. We’re both counting on the other’s pension, which will have 100% survivor benefits. Our term policies end in 2025 and 2029, and we have no plans to renew them. Our kids are grown and, by then, we’ll be drawing our pensions.

Until recently, we also had disability coverage to protect our income. I dropped mine within the past year when I realized that I could get up to a year of paid medical leave if I needed it. On top of that, if I got really sick or was permanently disabled, I’d just retire, since I’m so close to the finish line anyway.

I should mention that I was happy to have disability coverage when I had to go on bedrest during my second pregnancy. My husband was finishing law school at the time and I was supporting the family, so the complete loss of my income would have been catastrophic.

Learning to appreciate insurance. Despite wondering sometimes if we’re over-insured, several recent family events have made me appreciate the value of insurance. Our 20-something daughter has been in two separate car accidents in the past 18 months. Both times she was a passenger and both times she was seriously injured, requiring an ambulance ride and emergency surgery.

As it happened, the driver at fault in her first accident was well insured, and his insurance company offered her a generous and fair settlement. Not so with the second driver—he has the minimum coverage required by state law, and that won’t come close to compensating my daughter for her lost wages, let alone for things like physical therapy or counseling for post-traumatic stress.

Fortunately, we carry underinsured motorist coverage on our own family policy, and she may be able to get additional funds that way. She was also informed by the district attorney prosecuting the driver that there’s a state-run crime victims compensation fund that she can apply to. This has been quite a learning curve.

The other family situation involves my mother-in-law, now age 83, and her long-term-care (LTC) insurance. She and her husband purchased the LTC policy some 20 years ago. Now, she’s in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and needs to activate the policy for in-home caregivers. Her husband is also over 80, and has a hard time managing things like LTC insurance portals and claim forms. We’ve been helping him from 400 miles away, including several conference calls to the LTC insurance provider. Again, we’ve had to learn a lot quickly.

Getting acquainted with my mother-in-law’s LTC policy and procedures has made me think about our own coverage. Do we need LTC insurance? Ironically, thinking this through has made me realize that while my in-laws perhaps didn’t need it, my husband and I probably do. My in-laws are very well off and could pay as they go for care. At $1,000 a month, their LTC premium is expensive. Even though they’ll be using it now, the coverage may not have been worth it. By contrast, because we bought our LTC policies when we were in our 40s, they aren’t as expensive, plus we don’t have the resources that my in-laws do to self-insure.

We carry maximum liability coverage on our auto insurance, plus a substantial umbrella policy. My dad was the first to advise us to get umbrella insurance: “If you lose a lawsuit, you could be working for someone for the rest of your life.”

My husband’s torts professor in law school also urged his students to obtain coverage: “You’ll be earning money once you’re practicing lawyers, so you could be targets in a lawsuit.” Seeing how our daughter’s life has been upended twice by other drivers has reminded us that good liability coverage is both prudent for us and responsible toward others.

Insurance on the go. Our most recent insurance acquisition is an annual travel policy. I bought it earlier this year after reading an article on The Points Guy website. I had vaguely assumed that we didn’t need it because a combination of our own health insurance plus travel protections offered by credit cards would take care of any emergencies.

It turned out I was underthinking this. The medical insurance we had didn’t offer coverage while traveling abroad, so we changed policies during open enrollment at the end of 2022. As for the credit card coverage, that can be cumbersome to use, and there are lots of ways to do it wrong. Maybe most important, our travel policy gives a generous allowance for emergency transportation, whether being airlifted to a hospital or taking an unexpected flight home.

This travel policy is not the same as one you might buy when booking a pricey cruise or land tour. Those are primarily to cover your investment in the trip itself. The annual policy we bought does provide some modest benefits for things like trip delays or lost luggage, but the primary benefits are for medical emergencies. The policy I bought from Allianz costs $560 for my husband and me, and it covers every trip, domestic or abroad, during the year. It also has a generous allowance if a rental car is damaged or stolen.

I hope we’ll never need to cash in on many of our insurance policies, but I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. While insurance doesn’t solve every problem, it can remove a major stressor in a difficult situation. I shudder to think what could have happened if our daughter didn’t have access to medical coverage and to auto insurance when she was a victim of those car accidents. The lack of insurance could have compromised her care, ruined her financially, and put extra pressure on us just as we’re trying to settle on a retirement date.

My dad wasn’t always right. But I think he nailed this one.

Dana Ferris and her husband live in Davis, California. She’s a professor in the writing program at the University of California, Davis, and is the author or co-author of nine books on teaching writing and reading to second language learners. Dana is a huge baseball fan and writes a weekly column for a San Francisco Giants fan blog under the nom de plume DrLefty. When not working, she also loves cooking, traveling and working out. Follow Dana on X (Twitter) @LeftyDana and check out her earlier articles.

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