How Do Viatical Life Insurance Settlements Work?

Back in 1989 the “viatical” life insurance business began with good intentions as a method to allow terminally ill AIDS patients early access to a portion – or all – of their life insurance policy’s death benefits. Eventually viaticals expanded to include other conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and any other life-threatening illness.

People living with a terminal illness are often faced with very tough financial decisions; fortunately, selling their life insurance policy for a viatical settlement can help ease some financial worry.

So, how do viatical settlements work?

The owner of the policy sells it for a percent of the death benefit. The buyer becomes the new owner and/or beneficiary of the life insurance policy, pays all future premiums and collects the entire death benefit when the insured dies.

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The industry has been troubled by a high number of unethical, illegitimate operations. These operations have gone after potential violators in an aggressive manner. These companies have given the industry a bad name and led to more regulations.

Most people confuse viatical settlements with life settlement. However, the fundamental difference between the two is that with viatical settlements in insured must be terminally ill while life settlements do not require this.

There are some common similarities among these settlements, which are:

– The person – generally has a terminal illness – selling the life insurance policy is the “viator” and they will receive money from the settlement. This person gives up ownership of the policy in return for cash now.

– A settlement provider is a person or company that buys the life insurance policy. The buyer becomes the policy owner and takes on all the responsibilities and benefits of the policy.

– The person or company who represents the seller and can “shop” for offers is a settlement broker. The buyer pays the broker a commission if the sale is complete.

– An accelerated death benefit (ABD) is a feature of a life insurance policy that typically pays some or all of the policy’s death benefit before the insured dies, which is another way of getting cash from a policy without a third part.

How To Sell Your Life Insurance Policy For A Viatical Settlement

In order to sell your life insurance policy for a viatical settlement, you must have a terminal disease and an estimated life expectancy of 36 months, or less, although there are some companies that will buy policies from people with greater life expectancy, such as 60 months.

Nowadays, viatical settlements are no longer just for AIDS patients. More and more companies are expanding to terminally ill cancer and heart patients or to those suffering from other fatal diseases.

Many different policies can be sold, including whole life, term and universal life.

In many cases, group policies also can be sold – for instance, if a disability waiver locks in coverage and the policy is assignable or convertible. However, you will need to check specifics with the company.

In addition, policies need to have been in-force beyond any contestability period, usually two years. Group policies must not require a new contestability period.

To sell a life insurance policy, your financial adviser may be able to assist you, keep in mind that they will receive a fee or commission on the sale of a percentage of either the cash value or the death benefit, typically five to seven percent.

However, you may also choose to approach viatical financial companies directly. Make sure that you get offers from more than one, and do not be afraid to negotiate.

Check whether or not your state insurance department has licensing and other requirements for funding or brokerage companies to conduct business in that state; currently, only a few states do.

The number of states that do, however, is growing quickly. It’s important to check to see whether your company is properly licensed. Otherwise, you might get hit with unnecessary taxes.

The company must be licensed in the state where it is making the transaction, not where it is located.

For example, if a company is based in California but does business in New York, it must be licensed in New York. That means that you should do business only with companies that comply with the National Association of Insurance Commissioner’s Model Act and Regulations on viatical settlements.

Keep in mind that you do not need to sell the entire policy. You can sell whatever percentage you would like – the company may have a minimum as a purchase requirement.

The amount you receive will depend on a variety of factors, such as anticipated life expectancy (the shorter it is, the higher the payout), the anticipated premiums the company will have to pay, if there are any loans, the insurance company’s rating, interest rate, and the company’s targeted rate of return.

A life expectancy of six months or less typically brings about 80 percent of the policy’s death benefit, although sometimes it can be as high as 85 percent. On the other hand, a life expectancy of 60 months would bring 25 to 30 percent.

If you have a cash value in the policy, you can usually withdraw it.

The process typically takes four to eight weeks to “viaticate” a policy, although it can take longer, especially with some group policies.

You can help speed things up by notifying your physician and insurance company to expect the inquiries from the viatical company.

The lump sum payout could result in the loss of state and federal need-based aid such as Medicaid, food stamps or SSI.

Depending on your financial situation, specifically if you a lot of money to hospitals, doctors, or other creditors, they may seek payment from the proceeds you receive. Also, if you file for bankruptcy, the creditors lay claim.

The viatical company normally will not contact you after settlement, but they will track your status so it known when the policy “matures” – that is, when the “viator” dies and the policy becomes payable.

If you live past your anticipated life expectancy, there are no repercussions for you; that is part of the risk for the company.

As like any other big decision, you should shop around to make sure that you are getting a fair price. This is a type of transaction that you can negotiate with companies since there is usually no set price.

Tony Steuer is an author and advocate for financial preparedness. Tony Steuer, CLU, LA, CPFFE, helps people make sense of the financial world in a way that’s easy for them to understand. His books including, “GET READY!,” “Insurance Made Easy,” and “Questions and Answers on Life Insurance,” have won numerous awards. Tony is the founder of the GET READY! Initiative which includes the GET READY! financial organization system, the GET READY! Financial Preparedness Club, GET READY! Podcast, and the GET READY! Financial Principles, a best practices playbook for the financial services industry. Tony served as long-term member of the California Department of Insurance Curriculum Board. Tony is regularly featured in the media including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fast Company, and other media. He has also appeared as a guest on television shows, such as ABC’s “Seven on Your Side.” Visit to join the GET READY! Financial Preparedness Club and access free resources.

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