I enjoy your columns, have for a long time. You have raised snark to the level of high art. One point may suggest elucidation, though. The letter writer (real or imaginary) stated "insurance never pays out for suicide." I am not certain this is correct. —John R.
Thanks for the kind words, John, but before I answer your question, I'd like to address the persistent belief—reflected in the thinly veiled shade of your tendentious aside, "real or imaginary"—that the Dr. Know column is completely made up, like a slightly less funny version of the old National Lampoon letters section (or, perhaps, a much less arousing Penthouse Forum).
Well, it's not. I'm not saying it's good news for our civilization, but my mailbox is full of real (if largely incoherent) messages every week. About 95 percent of Dr. Know questions come from strangers by email, the remainder were asked in person by people I know. (I also hear "I had a good Dr. Know question but I forgot it" daily.)
It's possible this myth is rooted in the convention of signing questions with the writer's given name and initial (e.g., "John R.") when they don't provide a pseudonym. I do this not because I made the person up, but because using their full name would require confirming their identity, which sounds like a pain in the ass.
Also—and most germane in this context—if I wrote the questions, they wouldn't contain factual errors. Many readers (three counts as "many" among the Warlpiri people of northern Australia) wrote in to correct the assertion by last week's questioner, "Worried About Premiums," that suicide nullifies one's life insurance policy.
To clarify: Most life insurance policies do have a provision called "the suicide clause" (not, sadly, the name of an upcoming holiday sequel starring Tim Allen). However, it usually just means they won't pay the full benefit amount if the suicide occurs during the "contestability period."
The contestability period is a fancy name for the two years following the purchase of a life insurance policy. If you croak for any reason—suicide, undisclosed illness, natural causes stemming from 27 separate stab wounds to the back—during this period, the insurance company reserves the right to be suspicious.
Dr. Know regrets the error.