Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Although some aspects of the application process (such as underwriting and insurable interest provisions) make it difficult, life insurance policies have been used in cases of exploitation and fraud. In the case of life insurance, there is a motivation to purchase a life insurance policy, particularly if the face value is substantial, and then kill the insured. Usually, the larger the claim, and/or the more serious the incident, the larger and more intense will be the number of investigative layers, consisting in police and insurer investigation, eventually also loss adjusters hired by the insurers to work independently.
The television series Forensic Files has included episodes that feature this scenario. There was also a documented case in 2006, where two elderly women are accused of taking in homeless men and assisting them. As part of their assistance, they took out life insurance on the men. After the contestability period ended on the policies (most life contracts have a standard contestability period of two years), the women are alleged to have had the men killed via hit-and-run car crashes.
Recently, viatical settlements have created problems for life insurance carriers. A viatical settlement involves the purchase of a life insurance policy from an elderly or terminally ill policy holder. The policy holder sells the policy (including the right to name the beneficiary) to a purchaser for a price discounted from the policy value. The seller has cash in hand, and the purchaser will realize a profit when the seller dies and the proceeds are delivered to the purchaser. In the meantime, the purchaser continues to pay the premiums. Although both parties have reached an agreeable settlement, insurers are troubled by this trend. Insurers calculate their rates with the assumption that a certain portion of policy holders will seek to redeem the cash value of their insurance policies before death. They also expect that a certain portion will stop paying premiums and forfeit their policies. However, viatical settlements ensure that such policies will with absolute certainty be paid out. Some purchasers, in order to take advantage of the potentially large profits, have even actively sought to collude with uninsured elderly and terminally ill patients, and created policies that would have not otherwise been purchased. Likewise, these policies are guaranteed losses from the insurers' perspective.

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