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What Is a Viatical Settlement?

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While it is often confused with a life settlement, a viatical settlement actually has some notable differentiating factors regarding how it works and the circumstances of eligibility. A life settlement is when a policyholder sells their life insurance policy for a cash payout. This is typically done when the insured no longer needs the policy, can no longer keep up with the premiums, or if they would simply rather have a smaller payout sooner to cover their financial needs. Viatical settlements, on the other hand, are less common and pursued specifically by those with serious illnesses and short life expectancies. The policy holder sells their life insurance policy to a third-party buyer, usually at a significantly discounted rate, in exchange for an immediate payout. This is usually done because the seller needs financial assistance dealing with their illness.

Viatical settlement history

Viatical settlements have existed along with life settlements since the 1911 Supreme Court ruling in Grigsby v. Russell where it was decided that life insurance policies are personal property that may be lawfully sold to third parties. They didn’t become prominent, however, until the AIDS epidemic of the 80s where young people were suddenly facing the possibility of dying from the disease in just a few years. By selling their life insurance policies, many were able to afford medical treatments that could extend, and in some cases even save, their lives.

Seller qualifications

A seller needs to meet three basic criteria in order to qualify for a viatical settlement. First, they must have a terminal illness with a life expectancy in the timeframe of two to four years. Second, the policy needs to have been in effect for at least two years. Finally, the policy must come to a value of $100,000 or more.

All life insurance policies are acceptable, whether they’re term or permanent policies. There are still a variety of factors, however, that can affect the payout of a viatical settlement. Such factors may include the seller’s illness and its stage, individual policies of companies and brokers involved, the death benefit of the policy, and any other factors deemed relevant.

 Why pursue a viatical settlement?

One of the most common reasons to pursue a viatical settlement is because the seller simply can’t afford their insurance premiums any longer. The settlement frees them from this financial burden and also provides a payout for the seller to pursue medical care or other needs. This is a particularly good choice if the seller no longer has anyone relying on the death benefit of their policy.

A viatical settlement can also be a good choice when a term policy is nearly expired. Instead of letting it run out, it may be possible to convert to a whole policy and sell it. It’s also worth looking into selling a policy if it’s about to lapse. Most companies offer a grace period before the policy lapses from non-payment, and even a small payout is better than just wasting the policy. 

Advantages over other options

There are two main advantages to a viatical settlement over other options for those inclined. A viatical settlement will almost always provide a larger payout than other forms of financial assistance. Viatical settlements also have a specific advantage over life settlements in that they are tax free. They can often be the best option for a seller to improve their quality of life during the time they have left. If one decides to pursue this option, it’s often as easy as a brief application and a payout within days, if a buyer is found.

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