Impending Estate Tax Reform Will Give Owners of Large Life Insurance Policies an Enormous Windfall

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Super-wealthy families will win twice if estate tax repeal or reform becomes law. Beyond the obvious tax savings, America's richest citizens will sell off the multi-million dollar life insurance policies that they no longer need -- at an enormous profit.

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In the old days people who no longer needed their life insurance policies simply cancelled their policies and took out the cash value. Today, however, a new ‘life settlement’ secondary marketplace has sprung up where institutional investors purchase large life insurance policies from individuals, and hold them until the insured's death, thus collecting the death benefit.

While estate tax reform would save America’s richest families many millions of tax dollars, those who currently own large life insurance policies will often enjoy a second, less obvious, multi-million dollar windfall.

After years of politically charged debate about estate tax repeal, the Senate and House may finally settle on a compromise reform which would increase the estate tax exemption rate (perhaps as high as $10 million per married couple) and at the same time decrease the tax rate to as low as 15%.

Until now, many wealthy individuals and families purchased huge life insurance policies designed to pay out millions of dollars upon their death, thus sheltering heirs from enormous estate tax burdens. Now with estate tax reform many of those large death benefits will no longer be needed, and thousands are expected to sell their outmoded life insurance policies for a huge profit.

According to Stephen Wolff , CEO of Ashton Group, "In the old days people who no longer needed their life insurance policies simply cancelled their policies and took out the cash value. Today, however, a new ‘life settlement’ secondary marketplace has sprung up where institutional investors purchase large life insurance policies from individuals, and hold them until the insured's death, thus collecting the death benefit."

The difference between a life insurance policy's official "cash value" and its open marketplace value can be staggering.

"For example, one 83-year-old widow purchased a $20 million life insurance policy two years ago. She had paid $1,720,000 in total premiums, and her cash value was only up to about $480,000. Recently, an investor offered this same widow $4,300,000 for her policy. From her point of view, she made a net profit of $2,580,000, after receiving two years’ worth of “free” coverage to boot. If instead she had taken out the $480,000 cash value, she would have lost over $3,500,000 of fair market value.

From the investor's point of view, he invested $4,300,000, and will continue to pay minimum premiums to keep the policy in force. Upon the death of the widow, he will receive a guaranteed payout of $20,000,000. Of course, no one knows exactly when the elderly lady will die, but if she lives to a normal life expectancy, the investor will do very well."

This surprising (and common) arbitrage opportunity happens because insurance companies often underprice their largest life insurance policies, because they know that historically only about one in six life insurance policies are kept in force until a death benefit has to be paid. This practice, known as "lapse based pricing," may well prove to be a very costly mistake for insurance companies, because this new senior settlement marketplace could result in most policies being held until death.

"We expect billions of dollars worth of existing life insurance policies to be sold over the next two years. The economic benefits are extremely compelling for both the insureds and the investors."

Investors particularly look to purchase policies with death benefits of at least $5 million where the insured is at least 70 years of age and older. The poorer the health of the insured, the more investors will typically pay. Some investors are even buying term insurance policies, because they know they can typically convert them to permanent policies.

The downside?

"The senior settlement marketplace is relatively new and unregulated. As a result, every transaction is unique, and many people are falling victim to unscrupulous operators who offer lowball prices and then keep most of the profits. Furthermore, there are a host of issues that would-be sellers must understand.

Interested parties really need to work with an expert who explains all the issues, solicits bids from multiple would-be buyers and at the same time completely discloses costs and commissions. Otherwise, you will have no way of knowing if you are receiving the proper value for your policy.”

Wolff adds, "Many wealthy seniors are sitting on a life insurance policy that is worth far more than they imagine. If they would like a free estimate of what their policy is worth in today’s marketplace, they should contact us or another qualified specialist."

Mr. Wolff’s firm, Ashton Group, may be reached at (949) 253-0928, or on the Web at http://www.AshtonGroup.biz .

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Stewart Gandolf
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