Jeff Velastegui, a MassMutual financial professional, can pinpoint the day he decided to devote his career to helping families secure their future. He had just come home from college and found his mother at the kitchen table signing paperwork for a financial services product she could not afford.
“I was in my sophomore or junior year of college and I came home from school and my mom was sitting there with a salesman filling out an application,” he recalled. “He had an overly aggressive approach. When I saw that, something didn’t sit well.”
Velastegui and his mother had emigrated from Ecuador to the United States in 1990, when he was nine years old, with $500 and a single suitcase. While his mother had been educated as an accountant in their home country, she did not speak English when she first arrived and was forced to take whatever jobs she could find to sustain them, often cooking in kitchens. Money was a constant struggle.
Her health began to decline when Velastegui attended the City University of New York, and he helped pay the bills by juggling full-time school and part-time jobs.
Watching his mother spend money on a financial product that would further drain their limited income sent Velastegui into action. After reviewing the contract she had signed, he began doing research on alternative products that might provide the same level of protection at a price that fit her budget. He helped her make the switch and a career in financial planning was born.
“At the age of 19, I was able to have that revelation,” he said, noting the value he places on working for a reputable financial services company that does not condone high-pressure sales tactics.
It’s the memory of that moment, and the desire to advocate for those most vulnerable, that guides Velastegui as a financial professional to this day. That, and his mission to help his clients achieve the kind of financial independence that families in more affluent ZIP codes sometimes take for granted.
“My drive was to serve a community of people who didn’t have access to that information,” said Velastegui, who has experienced the wealth divide firsthand. “My perspective was unique because even though I was living in a very socioeconomically depressed situation at the time, for the prior six years I had been living with some of the wealthiest kids in the country. I was very fortunate to be lifted out of the ghettos of Brooklyn and placed in a private boarding school in Georgia on a scholarship. So, my understanding of money became a very powerful thing for me at a young age.”
Velastegui said he considers himself to be an educator and an advocate in his role as a financial professional with the Center for Wealth Preservation, a MassMutual firm, in Syosset, New York.
“Every single time I look at a new client, it’s like I see a part of my mother,” he said. “That truly is what I envision — helping people in every aspect of their financial life. Whether they have a little or a lot, their decisions have a significant impact on their families.”
Guidance from a trusted financial professional can not only help to ensure that your loved ones are protected, but also potentially prevent some costly mistakes, he said.
Velastegui recalls one client, a pre-retiree and small-business owner who came to him with what he thought was an airtight retirement and estate plan. The client noted that his primary goal was to provide financial protection for his wife and to preserve his assets for his two adult children. Upon closer review of his financial plan, however, Velastegui discovered that he and his wife were inadvertently creating a future estate tax liability because they were not taking advantage of gifting and advanced planning strategies. He designed a new retirement and estate plan that allowed them to fully maximize their income in retirement, and at the same time, preserve their family’s wealth. (Learn more: Entering the ‘wealth transfer zone’)
In collaboration with an estate planning attorney, Velastegui reduced the size of their taxable estate substantially by making tax-free annual gifts to an irrevocable trust that owned life insurance to provide the family’s future liquidity needs. (Learn more: 7 situations where a trust might help you)
Irrevocable life insurance trusts, or ILITs, can potentially be structured so that the surviving spouse receives all the income generated by the trust for their lifetime, plus be allowed distributions of principal by the trustee for ongoing health, education, maintenance, or support. Any remaining proceeds then pass to the policyowner’s heirs estate tax free. Such financial products are complex. It is important to consult a financial professional to discuss whether a trust may make sense for your unique financial picture. (Learn more: Estate planning: 6 big mistakes you might be making)
“I’ve always been driven by a ‘service first’ philosophy, and a process driven by the client’s needs and future financial goals,” said Velastegui. “My passion is just to reach people in time to make a difference.”
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