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'Cake Boss' Buddy Valastro: Father's death taught tough lesson about life insurance

Perhaps you’ve heard of Buddy Valastro, owner of Carlo’s Bakery in New Jersey and star of the TLC show “Cake Boss.”

The show focuses on the day-to-day challenges presented to Buddy and his team by customers who ask for outrageous creations that seem impossible. Of course, the flourishing bakery always gets the job done.

That’s not to say that Carlo’s Bakery hasn’t seen its share of hard times.

When most teens are thinking about college, Buddy Valastro cake-bosswas thrust into the role of keeping his family business afloat. Born and raised in an old-fashioned Italian family in Hoboken, he demonstrated a knack for baking and cake decorating at an early age. While under the tutelage of his father – a master baker Valastro called his “best friend” – the pair dreamed of making Carlo’s Bakery a household name.

The senior Valastro died of lung cancer when Buddy was 17; Buddy dropped out of high school and started working 12 to 18 hour days, six days a week.

“Taking over the family business at such a young age and having 30 employees depending on me was a huge amount of pressure, and there were many days I didn't think I could pull it off,” he says.

The situation was compounded by the fact that Valastro’s father didn't have any life insurance.

To make sure that families like his aren’t caught off guard in the event of an unexpected loss, Valastro teamed up with the LIFE Foundation’s campaign to educate Americans about the dangers of inadequate life insurance coverage. sat down with the “Cake Boss” to get his take on how life insurance can affect a family. You’re spinning so many plates at the moment. Why are you taking time out of your regular schedule to advocate education and awareness for life insurance?

Buddy the “Cake Boss” Valastro: My dad was diagnosed with lung cancer on my 17thbirthday and died three weeks later.

He owned life insurance for many years, but his policy expired about six months before his diagnosis, and he didn’t renew it. When he passed away, our family lost its breadwinner, and I had to drop out of high school … to run the bakery.

So I know firsthand that protecting your loved ones with life insurance is important, especially when your family starts to grow. And that it’s very important to make sure those policies don’t lapse or offer too little coverage. It can be uncomfortable for people to think about or discuss life insurance because it reminds us of our mortality. How have you overcome that to include life insurance in your financial planning?

Valastro: Losing my dad and experiencing the effects of not having life insurance was all the motivation I needed. I don’t ever want my children to be in the situation I was, so I want to make sure that my family will always be protected financially. What are some hardships placed on family members if a person doesn’t have life insurance?

Valastro: In my experience, I know things would have been easier if there had been life insurance. I could have hired more staff, worried less, and had time to grieve. My entire family’s life may have been different.

Instead, I worked almost nonstop for several years to try to stay afloat. It was a huge amount of pressure, and I consider myself lucky to have made it through those difficult years. However, educating people about the importance of life insurance means hopefully another family will be spared of those tough years filled with worry. You need to be meticulous in the kitchen when you’re creating one of your famous cakes. How does that penchant for being meticulous affect your attitude about estate planning and insurance?

Valastro: I take the same approach in the kitchen as I do in all aspects of my life, including my financial planning.

It’s important for me to make sure everything is taken care of and planned for, because you never know what’s going to happen. I’m definitely a firm believer in being prepared, whether that means always having extra sponge cake in the freezer in case a cake gets damaged during delivery, or owning adequate life insurance to make sure my family will be OK financially if something happens to me. So is it safe to assume that you carry a life insurance policy?

Valastro: Yes, I have four beautiful children and own lots of life insurance.

I bought life insurance as soon as my first child was born and bought more as my family grew. Now that the business has taken off, I’ve worked closely with my adviser to add more coverage to make sure that everything I’ve worked so hard to create will get passed on to the next generation.

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