Trends in Life Settlements


The current issue of a leading life settlements industry newsletter predicts that 2019 should be a good year to invest in life settlements because it is a growing recognized investment class; but also and frighteningly, because aging boomers will need to sell their policies for cash in order to pay for their own health care!

Life settlement investment works like this: you buy a life insurance policy on the life of Mr. Smith for a sum of money you calculate as follows: you pay say $10X dollars for a policy that on death pays say 20X; and the cost of premiums is $X a year; you calculate how long Mr Smith will live based on health, age, actuarial tables, etc.; you “bet” that Mr Smith will die sooner rather than later so that you collect your $20X life insurance death benefit before your cost to purchase + premiums you paid + your cost of money is less than the $20X proceeds– much less.

Obviously you can get lucky with Mr Smith (next week he is hit and killed by a driver-less car, for example), but there is risk; he may have great genes or a propensity for diseases which modern medicine can treat, and he lives to be 110.  So the safe approach, aside from getting good actuarial tables, is to buy a variety of policies so that statistically the portfolio will protect you from buying a policy on a small number of unlucky — that is long-lived — people.  This business concept gave birth to both a recognized industry and an investment class.

Back to the boomers selling their policies in order to pay health care costs.  This is facially unsettling, yes?  What about the benefits of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the support structure we are supposed to have in order to protect our aging population?  In a related development, a US House bill, which in fact died at the end of the last Congressional session, sought to permit seniors selling their policies to avoid paying taxes on the proceeds provided the proceeds were used for healthcare, including long-term care.  It is expected that the bill will be re-introduced next session.

I guess the lesson here is that if you have sizable life insurance which you no longer believe you need to maintain, you should get a quote to sell the policy and compare it to any cash surrender value you might receive from the insurance company; particularly for term policies, with no surrender value and possibly lower premium costs, you may well find yourself with a hidden profit center by selling your policy, even after you adjust for any tax burden.



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