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What is a Life Settlement?

In the realm of financial planning and insurance, a life settlement has emerged as an intriguing strategy. Essentially, a life settlement involves the selling of one's life insurance policy to a third party, often an institutional investor, in exchange for a one-time cash payment. This article aims to comprehensively discuss the meaning of life settlements, its benefits, and address common queries associated with the concept.

The Concept of Life Settlement

A life settlement refers to the selling of an existing insurance policy to a third party, above the surrender value, but less than the actual death benefit. The third party then assumes the role of the policy's beneficiary, taking over the responsibility of premium payments. Upon the death of the original policyholder, this third party receives the death benefit, making the life settlement agreement a potential high-yield investment strategy.

Life settlements are particularly relevant to permanent life insurance products like whole life and universal life, which guarantee a return to the viatical company. These companies can predict, using actuarial science, the likely lifespan of an individual based on their risk profile, thus generating a strong cash flow from regular premium payments.

Life Settlements Vs. Viatical Settlements

While life settlements are often conflated with viatical settlements, they are not identical. Both concepts involve the selling of a life insurance policy to a third party, but the circumstances typically vary. Viatical settlements are usually sought when the policyholder has a terminal or chronic illness, while life settlements can be sought by individuals for various reasons including retirement, unaffordable premiums, or financial emergencies.

The Process of Life Settlements

The process begins when a policyholder, who can no longer afford their insurance policy, sells it for a one-time cash payment. For instance, if an individual had a whole life policy with a $50,000 cash value and a death benefit of $100,000, a life settlement company might offer a lump sum of $65,000. By accepting this offer, the policyholder would essentially transfer the ownership and beneficiary status of the policy to the life settlement company, which will then continue paying the premiums and eventually receive the death benefit.

The Tax Implications

The taxation of life settlement transactions is a critical aspect to consider. As per the rules issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in 2009, the taxation policy for life settlements may be less favorable compared to surrendering the contract to the issuing insurance company. Therefore, it's crucial for policyholders to understand the tax implications and current regulations before proceeding with a life settlement.

Life Settlements: An Investment Strategy

Life settlement companies often view these transactions as lucrative investments. By acquiring policies at a price higher than the cash value but lower than the death benefit, these companies can yield a substantial return on their investment. These life settlements can even be pooled, securitized, and sold in secondary markets as investment products.

Life settlements offer a practical solution for policyholders who can no longer afford their premiums, desire immediate liquidity, or wish to maximize their financial assets. However, it's vital to understand all aspects of the process, including potential tax implications, before choosing this route.

The Moral and Ethical Implications

Over the years, life settlements have drawn both criticism and praise, stirring a controversial moral debate. On the one hand, life settlements can provide immediate financial relief to individuals who may be struggling with high insurance premiums or need liquidity due to a financial crisis. It offers an opportunity to receive more money than they would by merely surrendering their policy to the insurance company.

On the other hand, it also creates a scenario where investors could potentially profit from the early death of the insured person. This ethical conundrum has led to increased regulations in the life settlement industry over the last two decades to protect the rights and interests of policyholders.

Life Settlement and Stranger-Owned Life Insurance (STOLI)

Life settlements should not be confused with Stranger-Owned Life Insurance (STOLI). While both involve a third party, the key distinction lies in the initiation of the policy. In a STOLI arrangement, a third party initiates and controls the policy from the beginning with the express intent of profiting from the insured's death - a practice viewed as controversial and illegal in many jurisdictions. Conversely, a life settlement involves the transfer of an existing policy initiated by the insured person.

Assessing Life Settlements: Is it Right for You?

Deciding whether a life settlement is the right choice depends on individual circumstances. For policyholders facing financial hardship or those who no longer need or can afford their policy, a life settlement can provide a valuable financial lifeline.

However, it's essential to seek professional advice and conduct thorough research before proceeding. This includes understanding the taxation implications, examining the current health status, and evaluating the need for future coverage. Policyholders should also consider the potential emotional impact of selling their life insurance policy and the prospect of investors benefiting from their death.

Life Settlements: A Look into the Future

Life settlements are evolving as the industry grows more regulated and transparent. With advancements in technology and risk assessment, it's likely that life settlements will continue to become more streamlined and user-friendly.

As with all financial decisions, careful consideration and consultation with a trusted financial advisor are advised. With a clear understanding of the potential benefits and implications, policyholders can make informed decisions that best suit their financial and personal needs.

A life settlement can be a beneficial strategy for those seeking immediate cash in exchange for their life insurance policy. However, it's crucial to navigate this process with a comprehensive understanding of the associated benefits, risks, and potential ethical and tax implications. With due diligence and expert guidance, a life settlement can serve as a potent tool in your financial arsenal.


A life settlement, also known as a viatical settlement, is a lump sum payment that purchases a person’s life insurance contract from them and makes the life settlement company the new beneficiary. These have become more regulated in last 20 years due to the questionable moral dilemma that this presents.

They tend to only work for permanent life insurance products like whole life and universal life, since the viatical company will know that it will get a return on its investment. Life insurance companies have some of the most impressive returns, in a risk-adjusted perspective, on the money in their general account.

Even if it’s a financially strained person who isn’t sick, statistically a poorer, stressed person will have a shorter life expectancy than a wealthy person. Life settlement companies offer a lump sum settlement to a person which will be greater than the cash value in their permanent policy but less than the death benefit, after which the settlement company will take over any remaining premiums and will become the beneficiary that receives the death benefit amount.

Basically the basis on the policy is not as favorable if a person sells to a life settlement company as opposed to surrendering the contract with their issuing life insurance company for the cash value, but, as stated above, the settlement company will pay more. The settlement company will be taxed at capital gains on any profit above their purchase price.

Pools of such settlements can be securitized and sold in the second market. After the settlement, the contract might be known as third-party owned life insurance or stranger-owned life insurance (STOLI).

How Do I Know that Life Insurance Companies are Reliable?
What is a Settlement Date?

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