The Office of Investor Education and Advocacy is issuing this Investor Bulletin to highlight information about life settlements and some of the risks these types of transactions may pose for investors. Individual investors considering a life settlement transaction may wish to keep the following points in mind and seek guidance from an unbiased financial professional who will not receive a commission or any other financial benefit from the transaction.
What is a life settlement?
In a “life settlement” transaction, a life insurance policy owner sells his or her policy to an investor in exchange for a lump sum payment. The amount of the payment from the investor to the policy owner is generally less than the death benefit on the policy, but more than its cash surrender value. The dollar amount offered by the investor usually takes into account the insured’s life expectancy (age and health) and the terms and conditions of the insurance policy.
Why would a policy owner wish to sell a life insurance policy?
Due to changed family or other circumstances, a life insurance policy owner may no longer need the insurance provided by the policy. A spouse may have died, children may have grown up, or a company with life insurance on a key officer may have been sold or gone out of business. Other policy owners may have difficulty making premium payments or simply need cash. In such circumstances, many policy owners surrender their policies or let their policies lapse by ceasing to make premium payments. Selling a policy to an investor may be another alternative. Such sales may be made through life settlement brokers who charge commissions.
How does a life settlement take place and who are the parties involved?
A policy owner may discuss a possible settlement with his or her insurance agent or financial adviser, who then contacts a life settlement broker. In some cases, the policy owner may be solicited directly by a life settlement broker. Life settlement brokers may also be life insurance agents or securities brokers. Depending on the requirements of the states in which they do business, life settlement brokers may be licensed.
The life settlement broker obtains the insured’s authorization to release medical records and forwards the policy owner’s application and medical information to one or more companies known as life settlement providers. Many, but not all, states regulate life settlement providers, who also charge a commission.
The life settlement provider obtains life expectancy estimates on the insured and bids on the application. Life expectancy underwriters (who are not the insured’s personal physician) evaluate the risk of mortality of the insured based on his or her personal characteristics. If the life settlement provider’s bid is accepted, the provider may add that policy to a large group of policies, interests in which may be offered to investors. Institutional investors analyze the information provided by the life settlement provider, often obtaining their own life expectancy estimates. Retail investors, on the other hand, may have to rely on life settlement personnel or other investment professionals to assess the advantages and disadvantages of the transaction. In either case, the investor makes a cash payment to the policy owner or policy owners and continues to pay premiums necessary to keep the policy or policies in effect. Upon the insured’s death, the investor receives the death benefit.
Considerations for investors in life settlements
Before investing in a life settlement, investors may wish to keep the following points in mind.
Get more information from the regulators
Investors may want to determine whether professionals involved in a life settlement transaction are registered or licensed. To check on the licensing or registration status of a life settlement broker or provider, contact your state insurance regulator. Contact information is available on the website of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (www.naic.org). To check on the registration status of a securities broker, use the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s on-line BrokerCheck (www.finra.org).