Older Americans with a life insurance policy that they no longer need have the option to sell the policy to investors. These transactions- called “life settlements-” can bring in needed cash- but are they a good idea?
If your children are grown and your mortgage paid off- you may decide that there is no longer a reason to be paying premiums every month for a life insurance policy- or you may reach a time when you can no longer afford to keep up with the premiums. If this happens- you may be tempted to let the policy lapse and get nothing from it or to surrender the policy for its cash value- which usually is a fraction of its death benefit. Another option is a life settlement. This allows you to sell your policy to an investor for an amount that is greater than the cash value- but less than the death benefit. The buyer pays all future premiums and receives the death benefit when you die.
Life settlements offer seniors a way to get cash to supplement retirement income and help pay for living expenses- health care- or other needed items. They can be a good alternative to surrendering a policy or letting it lapse. But as with any financial transaction- you need to exercise caution.
The amount you receive from a life settlement depends on your age- your health- and the terms and conditions of the policy. It is hard to determine if you are getting a fair price for the policy because there are no standard guidelines for life settlements. Before selling you should shop around to several life settlement companies. You should also note that the amount you receive will be reduced by transaction fees- which can eat up a good chunk of the proceeds of the sale. In addition- you may have to pay taxes on the lump sum you receive. Finally- the beneficiaries of your policy may not be pleased with the sale- which is why some life settlement companies require beneficiaries to sign off on the transaction.
Before choosing a life settlement- you should consider other options. If you need cash right away- you can borrow against your policy. If the premiums are too much- you may be able to stop premiums and receive a smaller death benefit. In some cases of terminal illness- you can receive an accelerated death benefit (this allows you to receive a portion of your death benefit while you are still alive). If you don’t need the cash but no longer want the policy- another possibility is to donate the policy to charity and get a tax write-off.
To find out the right solution for you- talk to your elder law attorney or a financial advisor.
For more information, see the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority on the pros and cons of life settlements and questions to ask to protect yourself in a sale.