A life settlement, or senior settlement, as they are sometimes called, involves selling an existing life insurance policy to a third party—a person or an entity other than the company that issued the policy—for more than the policy's cash surrender value, but less than the net death benefit. Life settlements can involve almost any kind of insurance policy, including variable policies.
The purchasers of life settlements, sometimes called life settlement companies or life settlement providers, generally are institutions that either hold the policies to maturity and collect the net death benefits or resell policies—or sell interests in multiple, bundled policies—to hedge funds or other investors. In exchange, you receive a lump sum payment. The amount you will receive in the secondary market depends on a range of factors, including your age, health and the terms and conditions of your policy-but it is generally more than the policy's cash surrender value and less than the net death benefit.
When you sell your life insurance policy, whoever buys it is acquiring a financial interest in your death. In addition to paying you a lump sum for your policy, the buyer agrees to pay any additional premiums that might be required to support the cost of the policy for as long as you live. In exchange, the buyer will receive the death benefit when you die.
Life settlements may make sense for people who no longer need or want their insurance policies, and would otherwise surrender their policies or allow them to lapse. But even then, you should proceed with caution. Read FINRA's Investor Alert on life settlements.