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|The foundation of life insurance is the recognition of the value of a human life and the possibility of indemnification for the loss of that value.|
|—F. C. Oviatt, Economic place of insurance and its relation to society|
Life insurance (or commonly life assurance, especially in the Commonwealth) is a contract between an insured (insurance policy holder) and an insurer or assurer, where the insurer promises to pay a designated beneficiary a sum of money (the "benefits") in exchange for a premium, upon the death of the insured person. Depending on the contract, other events such as terminal illness or critical illness may also trigger payment. The policy holder typically pays a premium, either regularly or as a lump sum. Other expenses (such as funeral expenses) are also sometimes included in the benefits.
Life policies are legal contracts and the terms of the contract describe the limitations of the insured events. Specific exclusions are often written into the contract to limit the liability of the insurer; common examples are claims relating to suicide, fraud, war, riot, and civil commotion.
Life-based contracts tend to fall into two major categories:
Insurance began as a way of reducing the risk to traders, as early as 2000 BC in China and 1750 BC in Babylon. An early form of life insurance dates to Ancient Rome; "burial clubs" covered the cost of members' funeral expenses and assisted survivors financially.
Modern life insurance policies were established in the early 18th century. The first company to offer life insurance was the Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance Office, founded in London in 1706 by William Talbot and Sir Thomas Allen. The first plan of life insurance was that each member paid a fixed annual payment per share on from one to three shares with consideration to age of the members being twelve to fifty-five. At the end of the year a portion of the "amicable contribution" was divided among the wives and children of deceased members and it was in proportion to the amount of shares the heirs owned. Amicable Society started with 2000 members.
The first life table was written by Edmund Halley in 1693, but it was only in the 1750s that the necessary mathematical and statistical tools were in place for the development of modern life insurance. James Dodson, a mathematician and actuary, tried to establish a new company that issued premiums aimed at correctly offsetting the risks of long term life assurance policies, after being refused admission to the Amicable Life Assurance Society because of his advanced age. He was unsuccessful in his attempts at procuring a charter from the government before his death in 1757.
His disciple, Edward Rowe Mores, was finally able to establish the Society for Equitable Assurances on Lives and Survivorship in 1762. It was the world's first mutual insurer and it pioneered age based premiums based on mortality rate laying “the framework for scientific insurance practice and development” and “the basis of modern life assurance upon which all life assurance schemes were subsequently based”.
Mores also specified that the chief official should be called an actuary - the earliest known reference to the position as a business concern. The first modern actuary was William Morgan, who was appointed in 1775 and served until 1830. In 1776 the Society carried out the first actuarial valuation of liabilities and subsequently distributed the first reversionary bonus (1781) and interim bonus (1809) among its members. It also used regular valuations to balance competing interests. The Society sought to treat its members equitably and the Directors tried to ensure that the policyholders received a fair return on their respective investments. Premiums were regulated according to age, and anybody could be admitted regardless of their state of health and other circumstances.
The sale of life insurance in the U.S. began in the late 1760s. The Presbyterian Synods in Philadelphia and New York City created the Corporation for Relief of Poor and Distressed Widows and Children of Presbyterian Ministers in 1759; Episcopalian priests organized a similar fund in 1769. Between 1787 and 1837 more than two dozen life insurance companies were started, but fewer than half a dozen survived. As the United States grew as a nation, its military presence increased on its own continent and became mobile on the high seas. Military officers banded together to found both the Army (AAFMAA)and the Navy Mutual Aid Association(Navy Mutual) after the widely publicized plight of widows and orphans left stranded in the West after the Battle of the Little Big Horn, June 25, 1876, and U.S. sailors had died while at sea, leaving families back home to fend for themselves.
There is a difference between the insured and the policy owner, although the owner and the insured are often the same person. For example, if Joe buys a policy on his own life, he is both the owner and the insured. But if Jane, his wife, buys a policy on Joe's life, she is the owner and he is the insured. The policy owner is the guarantor and he will be the person to pay for the policy. The insured is a participant in the contract, but not necessarily a party to it. Also, most companies allow the payer and owner to be different, e. g. a grandparent paying premiums for a policy on a child, owned by a grandchild.
The beneficiary receives policy proceeds upon the insured person's death. The owner designates the beneficiary, but the beneficiary is not a party to the policy. The owner can change the beneficiary unless the policy has an irrevocable beneficiary designation. If a policy has an irrevocable beneficiary, any beneficiary changes, policy assignments, or cash value borrowing would require the agreement of the original beneficiary.
In cases where the policy owner is not the insured (also referred to as the celui qui vit or CQV), insurance companies have sought to limit policy purchases to those with an insurable interest in the CQV. For life insurance policies, close family members and business partners will usually be found to have an insurable interest. The insurable interest requirement usually demonstrates that the purchaser will actually suffer some kind of loss if the CQV dies. Such a requirement prevents people from benefiting from the purchase of purely speculative policies on people they expect to die. With no insurable interest requirement, the risk that a purchaser would murder the CQV for insurance proceeds would be great. In at least one case, an insurance company which sold a policy to a purchaser with no insurable interest (who later murdered the CQV for the proceeds), was found liable in court for contributing to the wrongful death of the victim (Liberty National Life v. Weldon, 267 Ala.171 (1957)).
Special exclusions may apply, such as suicide clauses, whereby the policy becomes null and void if the insured commits suicide within a specified time (usually two years after the purchase date; some states provide a statutory one-year suicide clause). Any misrepresentations by the insured on the application may also be grounds for nullification. Most US states specify a maximum contestability period, often no more than two years. Only if the insured dies within this period will the insurer have a legal right to contest the claim on the basis of misrepresentation and request additional information before deciding whether to pay or deny the claim.
The face amount of the policy is the initial amount that the policy will pay at the death of the insured or when the policy matures, although the actual death benefit can provide for greater or lesser than the face amount. The policy matures when the insured dies or reaches a specified age (such as 100 years old).
The insurer (the life insurance company) calculates the policy prices with intent to fund claims to be paid and administrative costs, and to make a profit. The cost of insurance is determined using mortality tables calculated by actuaries. Actuaries are professionals who employ actuarial science, which is based on mathematics (primarily probability and statistics). Mortality tables are statistically based tables showing expected annual mortality rates. It is possible to derive life expectancy estimates from these mortality assumptions. Such estimates can be important in taxation regulation.
The three main variables in a mortality table are commonly age, gender, and use of tobacco, but more recently in the US, preferred class-specific tables have been introduced. The mortality tables provide a baseline for the cost of insurance, but in practice these mortality tables are used in conjunction with the health and family history of the individual applying for a policy to determine premiums and insurability. Mortality tables currently in use by life insurance companies in the United States are individually modified by each company using pooled industry experience studies as a starting point. In the 1980s and 1990s, the SOA 1975–80 Basic Select & Ultimate tables were the typical reference points, while the 2001 VBT and 2001 CSO tables were published more recently. The newer tables include separate mortality tables for smokers and non-smokers, and the CSO tables include separate tables for preferred classes.
Recent US mortality tables predict that roughly 0.35 in 1,000 non-smoking males aged 25 will die during the first year of coverage after underwriting. Mortality approximately doubles for every extra ten years of age, so the mortality rate in the first year for underwritten non-smoking men is about 2.5 in 1,000 people at age 65. Compare this with the US population male mortality rates of 1.3 per 1,000 at age 25 and 19.3 at age 65 (without regard to health or smoking status).
The mortality of underwritten persons rises much more quickly than the general population. At the end of 10 years the mortality of that 25 year-old, non-smoking male is 0.66/1000/year. Consequently, in a group of one thousand 25-year-old males with a $100,000 policy, all of average health, a life insurance company would have to collect approximately $50 a year from each participant to cover the relatively few expected claims. (0.35 to 0.66 expected deaths in each year x $100,000 payout per death = $35 per policy). Other costs, such as administrative and sales expenses, also need to be considered when setting the premiums. A 10 year policy for a 25-year-old non-smoking male with preferred medical history may get offers as low as $90 per year for a $100,000 policy in the competitive US life insurance market.
Most of the revenue received by insurance companies consists of premiums paid by policy holders, with some additional money being made through the investment of some of the cash raised from premiums. Rates charged for life insurance increase with the insured's age because, statistically, people are more likely to die as they get older. The insurance company will investigate the health of an applicant for a policy to assess the likelihood of incurring a claim, in the same way that a bank would investigate an applicant for a loan to assess the likelihood of a default. Group Insurance policies are an exception to this. This investigation and resulting evaluation of the risk is termed underwriting. Health and lifestyle questions are asked, with certain responses or revelations possibly meriting further investigation. Life insurance companies in the United States support the Medical Information Bureau (MIB), which is a clearing house of information on persons who have applied for life insurance with participating companies in the last seven years. As part of the application, the insurer often requires the applicant's permission to obtain information from their physicians.
Underwriters will determine the purpose of insurance; the most common being to protect the owner's family or financial interests in the event of the insured's death. Other purposes include estate planning or, in the case of cash-value contracts, investment for retirement planning. Bank loans or buy-sell provisions of business agreements are another acceptable purpose.
In the USA, life insurance companies are never legally required to underwrite or to provide coverage to anyone, with the exception of Civil Rights Act compliance requirements. Insurance companies alone determine insurability, and some people, for their own health or lifestyle reasons, are deemed uninsurable. The policy can be declined or rated (increasing the premium amount to compensate for a greater probability of a claim), and the amount of the premium will be proportional to the face value of the policy.
Many companies separate applicants into four general categories. These categories are preferred best, preferred, standard, and tobacco. Preferred best is reserved only for the healthiest individuals in the general population. This may mean, that the proposed insured has no adverse medical history, is not under medication for any condition, and his family (immediate and extended) have no history of early-onset cancer, diabetes, or other conditions. Preferred means that the proposed insured is currently under medication for a medical condition and has a family history of particular illnesses. Most people are in the standard category. People in the tobacco category typically have to pay higher premiums due to the inherent health problems that smoking tobacco creates. Profession, travel history, and lifestyle factor into whether the proposed insured will be granted a policy, and which category the insured falls. For example, a person who would otherwise be classified as preferred best may be denied a policy if he or she travels to a high risk country. Underwriting practices can vary from insurer to insurer, encouraging competition.
Upon the insured's death, the insurer requires acceptable proof of death before it pays the claim. The normal minimum proof required is a death certificate, and the insurer's claim form completed, signed, and typically notarized. If the insured's death is suspicious and the policy amount is large, the insurer may investigate the circumstances surrounding the death before deciding whether it has an obligation to pay the claim.
The specific uses of the terms "insurance" and "assurance" are sometimes confused. In general, in jurisdictions where both terms are used, "insurance" refers to providing coverage for an event that might happen (fire, theft, flood, etc.), while "assurance" is the provision of coverage for an event that is certain to happen. In the United States both forms of coverage are called "insurance" for reasons of simplicity in companies selling both products. By some definitions, "insurance" is any coverage that determines benefits based on actual losses whereas "assurance" is coverage with predetermined benefits irrespective of the losses incurred.
Life insurance may be divided into two basic classes: temporary and permanent; or the following subclasses: term, universal, whole life, and endowment life insurance.
Term assurance provides life insurance coverage for a specified term. The policy does not accumulate cash value. Term is generally considered "pure" insurance, where the premium buys protection in the event of death and nothing else.
There are three key factors to be considered in term insurance:
Annual renewable term is a one-year policy, but the insurance company guarantees it will issue a policy of an equal or lesser amount regardless of the insurability of the applicant, and with a premium set for the applicant's age at that time.
Level premium term can be purchased in 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 or 35 year terms. The premium and death benefit stays level during these terms.
Mortgage life insurance insures a loan secured by real property and usually features a level premium amount for a declining policy face value because what is insured is the principal and interest outstanding on a mortgage that is constantly being reduced by mortgage payments. The face amount of the policy is always the amount of the principal and interest outstanding that are paid should the applicant die before the final installment is paid.
Permanent life insurance is life insurance that cannot be cancelled for any reason except fraud, so long as the owner regularly pays his premiums. Any such cancellation must occur within a period of time (usually two years) defined by law. A permanent insurance policy accumulates a cash value up to its date of maturation, reducing the risk to which the insurance company is exposed as well as the policy's expense to the company. Such policies will be more expensive to older people than to younger ones. The owner can access the money in the cash value by withdrawing money, borrowing the cash value, or surrendering the policy and receiving the surrender value.
The four basic types of permanent insurance are whole life, universal life, limited pay, and endowment.
Whole life insurance provides lifetime death benefit coverage for a level premium. For younger people, whole life premiums are much higher than term insurance premiums, but because term insurance premiums rise with increasing age of the insured, the cumulative value of all premiums paid under whole and term policies are roughly equal if policies are maintained to average life expectancy. Part of the insurance contract stipulates that the policyholder is entitled to a cash value reserve that is part of the policy and guaranteed by the company. This cash value can be accessed at any time through policy loans that are received income tax-free and paid back according to mutually agreed-upon schedules. These policy loans are available until the insured's death. If any loans amounts are outstanding--i.e., not yet paid back--upon the insured's death, the insurer subtracts those amounts from the policy's face value/death benefit and pays the remainder to the policy's beneficiary.
While some life insurance companies market whole life as a "death benefit with a savings account", the distinction is artificial, according to life insurance actuaries Albert E. Easton and Timothy F. Harris. The net amount at risk is the amount the insurer must pay to the beneficiary should the insured die before the policy has accumulated premiums equal to the death benefit. It is the difference between the policy's current cash value (i.e., total paid in by owner plus that amount's interest earnings) and its face value/death benefit. Although the actual cash value may be different from the death benefit, in practice the policy is identified by its original face value/death benefit.
The advantages of whole life insurance are its guaranteed death benefits; guaranteed cash values; fixed, predictable premiums; and mortality and expense charges that do not reduce the policy's cash value. The disadvantages of whole life are the inflexibility of its premiums and the fact that the internal rate of return of the policy may not be competitive with other savings and investment alternatives.
Death benefit amounts of whole life policies can also be increased through accumulation and/or reinvestment of policy dividends, though these dividends are not guaranteed and may be higher or lower than earnings at existing interest rates over time. According to internal documents from some life insurance companies, the internal rate of return and dividend payment realized by the policyholder is often a function of when the policyholder buys the policy and how long that policy remains in force. Dividends paid on a whole life policy can be utilized in many ways.
The life insurance manual defines policy dividends as refunds of premium over-payments. They are therefore not exactly like corporate stock dividends, which are payouts of net income from total revenues.
Universal life insurance (UL) is a relatively new insurance product, intended to combine permanent insurance coverage with greater flexibility in premium payments, along with the potential for greater growth of cash values. There are several types of universal life insurance policies, including interest- sensitive (also known as "traditional fixed universal life insurance"), variable universal life (VUL), guaranteed death benefit, and equity-indexed universal life insurance.
Universal life insurance policies have cash values. Paid-in premiums increase their cash values; administrative and other costs reduce their cash values.
Universal life insurance addresses the perceived disadvantages of whole life – namely that premiums and death benefits are fixed. With universal life, both the premiums and death benefit are flexible. With the exception of guaranteed-death-benefit universal life policies, universal life policies trade their greater flexibility off for fewer guarantees.
"Flexible death benefit" means the policy owner can choose to decrease the death benefit. The death benefit can also be increased by the policy owner, usually requiring new underwriting. Another feature of flexible death benefit is the ability to choose option A or option B death benefits and to change those options over the course of the life of the insured. Option A is often referred to as a "level death benefit"; death benefits remain level for the life of the insured, and premiums are lower than policies with Option B death benefits, which pay the policy's cash value--i.e., a face amount plus earnings/interest. If the cash value grows over time, the death benefits do too. If the cash value declines, the death benefit also declines. Option B policies normally feature higher premiums than option A policies.
Another type of permanent insurance is limited-pay life insurance, whose premiums are paid over a specified period, commonly ten or twenty years, after which no additional premiums are due. Benefits are paid out at the age of 65.
Endowments are policies whose face values equal a benefit amount at a given age, called the endowment age, rather than a death benefit amount. Endowments require higher premiums than whole life and universal life policies because premiums are paid over shorter periods and maturation dates are earlier.
Endowments mature and are paid out after a prespecified period (e.g. 15 years) or at a prespecified age (e.g., 65), whether the insured is alive or has already died.
Accidental death insurance is a type of limited life insurance that is designed to cover the insured should they die as the result of an accident. "Accidents" run the gamut from abrasions to catastrophes but normally do not include deaths resulting from non-accident-related health problems or suicide. Because they only cover accidents, these policies are much less expensive than other life insurance policies.
Such insurance can also be accidental death and dismemberment insurance or AD&D. In an AD&D policy, benefits are available not only for accidental death but also for the loss of limbs or body functions such as sight and hearing.
Accidental death and AD&D policies very rarely pay a benefit, either because the cause of death is not covered by the policy or because death occurs well after the accident, by which time the premiums have gone unpaid. To know what coverage they have, insureds should always review their policies. Risky activities such as parachuting, flying, professional sports, or military service are often omitted from coverage.
Accidental death insurance can also supplement standard life insurance as a rider. If a rider is purchased, the policy generally pays double the face amount if the insured dies from an accident. This was once called double indemnity insurance. In some cases, triple indemnity coverage may be available.
Riders are modifications to the insurance policy added at the same time the policy is issued. These riders change the basic policy to provide some feature desired by the policy owner. A common rider is accidental death (see above). Another common rider is a premium waiver, which waives future premiums if the insured becomes disabled.
Joint life insurance is either term or permanent life insurance that insures two or more persons, with proceeds payable on the death of either.
Survivorship life insurance is whole life insurance insuring two lives, with proceeds payable after the second (later) death.
Single-premium whole life insurance requires only one premium payment, paid at policy maturity.
Modified whole life insurance features smaller premiums for a specified period of time, followed by higher premiums for the remainder of the policy.
Group life insurance (also known as wholesale life insurance or institutional life insurance) is term insurance covering a group of people, usually employees of a company, members of a union or association, or members of a pension or superannuation fund. Individual proof of insurability is not normally a consideration in its underwriting. Rather, the underwriter considers the size, turnover, and financial strength of the group. Contract provisions will attempt to exclude the possibility of adverse selection. Group life insurance often allows members exiting the group to maintain their coverage by buying individual coverage.
Legal life insurance is designed to cover legal expenses arising from an insurance company's refusal to pay a claim. Premiums paid depend on the amount of legal expenses covered and cover only litigation expenses incurred as a result of a specific claim refusal for the policy.
Insurance companies have in recent years developed products for niche markets, most notably targeting seniors in an aging population. These are often low to moderate face value whole life insurance policies, allowing senior citizens to purchase affordable insurance later in life. This may also be marketed as final expense insurance and usually have death benefits between $2,000 and $40,000. One reason for their popularity is that they only require answers to simple "yes" or "no" questions, while most policies require a medical exam to qualify. As with other policy types, the range of premiums can vary widely and should be scrutinized prior to purchase, as should the reliability of the companies.
Health questions can vary substantially between exam and no-exam policies. It may be possible for individuals with certain conditions to qualify for one type of coverage and not another. Because seniors sometimes are not fully aware of the policy provisions it is important to make sure that policies last for a lifetime and that premiums do not increase every 5 years as is common in some circumstances.
Pre-need life insurance policies are limited premium payment, whole life policies that are usually purchased by older applicants, though they are available to everyone. This type of insurance is designed to cover specific funeral expenses that the applicant has designated in a contract with a funeral home. The policy's death benefit is initially based on the funeral cost at the time of prearrangement, and it then typically grows as interest is credited. In exchange for the policy owner's designation, the funeral home typically guarantees that the proceeds will cover the cost of the funeral, no matter when death occurs. Excess proceeds may go either to the insured's estate, a designated beneficiary, or the funeral home as set forth in the contract. Purchasers of these policies usually make a single premium payment at the time of prearrangement, but some companies also allow premiums to be paid over as much as ten years.
These are unique insurance plans which are basically a mutual fund and term insurance plan rolled into one. The investor doesn't participate in the profits of the plan per se, but gets returns based on the returns on the funds he or she had chosen.
The premium paid by the customer is deducted by initial charges by the insurance companies (basically the distribution and initial costs) and the remaining amount is invested in a fund (much like a mutual fund) by converting the amount into units based upon the NAV of the fund on that date.
Mortality charges, fund management charges, and a few other charges are deducted in regular intervals by way of cancellation of units from the invested funds.
A Unit Linked Insurance Plan (ULIP) offers high flexibility to the customer in form of higher liquidity and lower term.
The customer has the choice of choosing the funds of his choice from whatever his/her insurance provider has to offer. He can switch between the funds without the necessity to opt out of the insurance plan.
ULIPs got extremely popular in the heyday of the equity bull run in India, as the returns generated in equity linked funds were beating any kind of debt or fixed return instrument. However, with the stagnation of the economy and the equity market this product category slowed down.
Some policies afford the policyholder a share of the profits of the insurance company – these are termed with-profits policies. Other policies provide no rights to a share of the profits of the company – these are non-profit policies.
With-profits policies are used as a form of collective investment scheme to achieve capital growth. Other policies offer a guaranteed return not dependent on the company's underlying investment performance; these are often referred to as without-profit policies, which may be construed as a misnomer.
Pensions are a form of life assurance. However, whilst basic life assurance, permanent health insurance, and non-pensions annuity business all include an amount of mortality or morbidity risk for the insurer, pensions pose a longevity risk.
A pension fund will be built up throughout a person's working life. When the person retires, the pension will become in payment, and at some stage the pensioner will buy an annuity contract, which will guarantee a certain pay-out each month until death.
An annuity is a contract with an insurance company whereby the insured pays an initial premium or premiums into a tax-deferred account, which pays out a sum at pre-determined intervals. There are two periods: the accumulation (when payments are paid into the account) and the annuitization (when the insurance company pays out). IRS rules restrict how money can be withdrawn from an annuity. Distributions may be taxable and/or penalized.
Where the life insurance is provided through a superannuation fund, contributions made to fund insurance premiums are tax deductible for self-employed persons and substantially self-employed persons and employers. However where life insurance is held outside of the superannuation environment, the premiums are generally not tax deductible. For insurance through a superannuation fund, the annual deductible contributions to the superannuation funds are subject to age limits. These limits apply to employers making deductible contributions. They also apply to self-employed persons and substantially self-employed persons. Included in these overall limits are insurance premiums. This means that no additional deductible contributions can be made for the funding of insurance premiums. Insurance premiums can, however, be funded by undeducted contributions. For further information on deductible contributions see "under what conditions can an employer claim a deduction for contributions made on behalf of their employees?" and "what is the definition of substantially self-employed?". The insurance premium paid by the superannuation fund can be claimed by the fund as a deduction to reduce the 15% tax on contributions and earnings. (Ref: ITAA 1936, Section 279).
Premiums paid by the policy owner are normally not deductible for federal and state income tax purposes, and proceeds paid by the insurer upon the death of the insured are not included in gross income for federal and state income tax purposes. However, if the proceeds are included in the "estate" of the deceased, it is likely they will be subject to federal and state estate and inheritance tax.
Cash value increases within the policy are not subject to income taxes unless certain events occur. For this reason, insurance policies can be a legal and legitimate tax shelter wherein savings can increase without taxation until the owner withdraws the money from the policy. In flexible-premium policies, large deposits of premium could cause the contract to be considered a modified endowment contract by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which negates many of the tax advantages associated with life insurance. The insurance company, in most cases, will inform the policy owner of this danger before deciding their premium.
The tax ramifications of life insurance are complex. The policy owner would be well advised to carefully consider them. As always, both the United States Congress and state legislatures can change the tax laws at any time.
Premiums are not usually deductible against income tax or corporation tax, however qualifying policies issued prior to 14 March 1984 do still attract LAPR (Life Assurance Premium Relief) at 15% (with the net premium being collected from the policyholder).
Non-investment life policies do not normally attract either income tax or capital gains tax on claim. If the policy has as investment element such as an endowment policy, whole of life policy or an investment bond then the tax treatment is determined by the qualifying status of the policy.
Qualifying status is determined at the outset of the policy if the contract meets certain criteria. Essentially, long term contracts (10 years plus) tend to be qualifying policies and the proceeds are free from income tax and capital gains tax. Single premium contracts and those running for a short term are subject to income tax depending upon the marginal rate in the year a gain is made. All UK insurers pay a special rate of corporation tax on the profits from their life book; this is deemed as meeting the lower rate (20% in 2005–06) of liability for policyholders. Therefore a policyholder who is a higher rate taxpayer (40% in 2005-06), or becomes one through the transaction, must pay tax on the gain at the difference between the higher and the lower rate. This gain is reduced by applying a calculation called top-slicing based on the number of years the policy has been held. Although this is complicated, the taxation of life assurance-based investment contracts may be beneficial compared to alternative equity-based collective investment schemes (unit trusts, investment trusts and OEICs). One feature which especially favors investment bonds is the '5% cumulative allowance' – the ability to draw 5% of the original investment amount each policy year without being subject to any taxation on the amount withdrawn. If not used in one year, the 5% allowance can roll over into future years, subject to a maximum tax-deferred withdrawal of 100% of the premiums payable. The withdrawal is deemed by the HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) to be a payment of capital and therefore the tax liability is deferred until maturity or surrender of the policy. This is an especially useful tax planning tool for higher rate taxpayers who expect to become basic rate taxpayers at some predictable point in the future (e.g. retirement), as at this point the deferred tax liability will not result in tax being due.
The proceeds of a life policy will be included in the estate for death duty (in the UK, inheritance tax) purposes. Policies written in trust may fall outside the estate. Trust law and taxation of trusts can be complicated, so any individual intending to use trusts for tax planning would usually seek professional advice from an Independent Financial Adviser and/or a solicitor.
Although available before April 2006, from this date pension term assurance became widely available in the UK. Most UK insurers adopted the name "life insurance with tax relief" for the product. Pension term assurance is effectively normal term life assurance with tax relief on the premiums. All premiums are paid at a net of basic rate tax at 22%, and higher rate tax payers can gain an extra 18% tax relief via their tax return. Although not suitable for all, PTA briefly became one of the most common forms of life assurance sold in the UK until, Chancellor Gordon Brown announced the withdrawal of the scheme in his pre-budget announcement on 6 December 2006.
Stranger originated life insurance or STOLI is a life insurance policy that is held or financed by a person who has no relationship to the insured person. Generally, the purpose of life insurance is to provide peace of mind by assuring that financial loss or hardship will be alleviated in the event of the insured person's death. STOLI has often been used as an investment technique whereby investors will encourage someone (usually an elderly person) to purchase life insurance and name the investors as the beneficiary of the policy. This undermines the primary purpose of life insurance, as the investors would incur no financial loss should the insured person die. In some jurisdictions, there are laws to discourage or prevent STOLI.
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Although some aspects of the application process (such as underwriting and insurable interest provisions) make it difficult, life insurance policies have been used to facilitate exploitation and fraud. In the case of life insurance, there is a possible motive to purchase a life insurance policy, particularly if the face value is substantial, and then murder the insured. Usually, the larger the claim, and the more serious the incident, the larger and more intense the ensuing investigation, consisting of police and insurer investigators.
The television series Forensic Files has included episodes that feature this scenario. There was also a documented case in 2006, where two elderly women were accused of taking in homeless men and assisting them. As part of their assistance, they took out life insurance for the men. After the contestability period ended on the policies, 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 providers. 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. These policies are guaranteed losses from the insurers' perspective.