Agent Walleene Leeks helps client with Parkinsons.

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Kelley Snead was 57-years-old, confined to a wheelchair with a rare form of Parkinson’s disease, and barely able to speak when she released her first album, Roses and Tumbleweeds, a compilation of songs she wrote and recorded over 20 years, pursuing her place in Nashville’s music scene. 

That she realized a lifelong ambition as she struggled with a debilitating illness is a measure of her personal grit. That she continued to provide for her family, even as medical expenses mounted, was due in large part to her friend, Wallene Leek, FSCP, LUTCF, LTCP, a New York Life agent in the company’s Nashville office. Leek made sure the family life insurance policies were structured for maximum benefit. Kelley passed away in May 2017, leaving a legacy of music and love. 

Kelley was diagnosed with this rare, drug-resistant form of Parkinson’s disease in 2009. Eventually she was unable to continue working, and like many Americans faced with a catastrophic illness—63%, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation/New York Times Survey—her family’s savings were depleted. A plan she’d put in place with Leek years earlier became a turning point for her and her family. Not only did Leek make sure Kelley had adequate life insurance, she customized the policies with key riders that eased the burden of the illness and continues to support her family today.

“Kelley’s disease may have taken away her livelihood, but life insurance saved our lives,” says husband, Doak Snead. 

Help before Need


Leek and Kelley met at a Bible study group in 2001. “Eventually, I began talking to her about life insurance. She had started a real estate business. As the main income earner for her family, it was always so important to her that her family be protected financially. Even when she was well, she was worried about her ability to work,” Leek says. 

Leek placed a $300,000, 20-year term policy with Disability Waiver of Premium and Living Benefits riders. “I’ll always look back on that as a special experience because Kelley was my first client,” Leek recalls. 

Kelley and Doak had dreams of country music stardom, but those remained elusive. Kelly became the breadwinner, working in real estate. Doak was a songwriter for various Nashville stars and continued performing. Together they made the decision to purchase life insurance. Working with Leek meant they were doubly protected thanks to two additional riders. Leek’s relationship with Kelley deepened. 

 “I would ask her how things were going with her business, and if she felt she needed more insurance,” Leek says. During a lunch in 2007, they talked about Kelley’s success and decided with her higher income, she needed another term life insurance policy for $250,000. The riders were also included on Leek’s insistence. “I won’t write a policy without the Disability Waiver of Premium Rider on it,” Leek says. “I never quote a policy to a client without it, because the fact is that people are more likely to become disabled and unable to work before they die young. This rider is protection to keep that policy in force.”

Leek also insists on the Living Benefits Rider (LBR), included at no additional cost. Administrative fees apply when exercised. 

Riders, in general, customize life insurance policies and usually add to the overall cost of the policy. The Disability Waiver of Premium Rider, means that life insurance premiums are paid by the company and the policy remains in force even if the insured is unable due to disability to make the premium payments due to disability of the insured. The LBR allows policy owners to accelerate the death benefit, providing access to the death benefit wne the insured is terminally ill with certain life expectancies .

Finding hope 


By 2012, unable to work and living on disability income, the medical bills began to mount, Kelley felt the strain. Leek helped trigger the Disability Waiver of Premium Rider. They’d pay no more premiums and retain the coverage.

"Purchasing these life insurance policies was one of the most important things Kelley ever did in her entire life, says Doak. "And it was all for the love of her family."

In January 2015, Doak called Wallene. He was worried they’d lose their house. Leek remembers taking a deep breath. “I told Doak ‘I'm going to ask you a really hard question, and I want you to answer honestly,'" Leek says. “I asked him, ‘Is her condition terminal, and if it is, I can help you.’”

Leek did the groundwork to make sure the Sneads could tap into the death benefit to cover expenses that threatened to overwhelm them. She activated the LBR, and in February 2015, delivered a check to Kelley and Doak Snead for $150,000. A year later, Leek delivered another check for $100,000. The Sneads policies had significantly reduced death benefits as a result, but remained in force.  

“I am so happy I was able to bring them checks that mattered. That money changed so much for them—not having to worry about growing debt and losing their house—just enjoying their time together meant the world to them,” says Leek. 

"As New York Life agents, we know we’re out there helping lives, but it’s not often we get to see the benefits of our work,” says Leek. “Good planning changes lives for generations."

Relief and resolution


The money let them catch up on the mortgage and other bills, and buy furniture and medical equipment to make Kelley more comfortable. Daughter Emma completed school, and they were able cover studio expenses to finish Roses & Tumbleweeds.

“Cutting the record was probably the most important thing to her, because one morning she realized, ‘I’m never going to be able to sing again,” Doak remembers. “She just woke up one day, and she wanted to put together an album. So that’s what we did.”

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