Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Structured settlements are an innovative method of compensating injury victims. Encouraged by the U.S. Congress since 1982, a structured settlement is a voluntary agreement between the injury victim and the defendant or insurer.
Under a structured settlement, an injury victim doesn't receive compensation for his or her injuries in one lump sum. Rather, in addition to a lump sum immediately upon settlement to cover current obligations or fees, he or she will receive a stream of future tax-free payments tailored to meet medical expenses and basic living needs.
A structured settlement may be agreed to privately (for example, in a pre-trial settlement) or it may be required by a court order, which often happens in judgments involving minors.
Historically, damages paid because of an injury lawsuit came in the form of a single lump sum. This kind of payment, especially in catastrophic injury cases, often placed the injury victim (or family) in a difficult financial position: With the victim focused on adapting to a new lifestyle, there often was not the time or expertise to manage large sums of money.
This kind of scenario sets up the probability of dissipation. A person who dissipating funds intended to cover a lifetime of medical care runs the risk of losing medical care and independence. They also risk winding up on public assistance at a significant cost to the taxpayer.
In 1982, a bipartisan coalition of legislators in Congress came together to pass legislation that amended the federal tax code. Their action, The Periodic Payment Settlement Act of 1982 (Public Law 97-473), formally recognized and encouraged the use of structured settlements in physical injury cases.
3. I'm involved in a personal injury lawsuit currently. Why should I consider Structured Settlement?
The payments from a structured settlement can:
- be arranged to be invested on your behalf and distributed tax-free
- Meet long-term rehabilitation or permanent care facility expenses;
- Provide for the future costs of college funds, retirement, down payment on a home, or mortgage payment; and
- Relieve the burden of managing the money to meet your needs
- Provide long-term financial security at NO COST!
No. Many non-physical injury cases can be structured including: divorce, employment cases, property damage, punitive damages, lottery prizes, business disputes, law firm break-ups, attorneys fees, and more. The difference is that these recoveries are partially or fully taxable (over time).
No, because of the specialized nature of structured settlements and their unique design and focus, only a licensed and appointed structured settlement specialist can handle this type of transaction.
Yes, by contract. The annuity policies are guaranteed and backed by the reserves established by the life insurance companies and required by state insurance departments. A companies financial strength and solvency is measured by the major independent rating agencies (Moodys, A.M. Best, S&P).
7. Can a claimant purchase their own annuity after a cash settlement and still receive payments tax-free?
No! A claimant may purchase an annuity policy with their settlement dollars after the closing documents have been signed, but without the income tax free advantages afforded by IRC Sections 104(a)(2). Generally speaking, in order to take full advantage of Section 104 the defense must cooperate in purchasing, guaranteeing and owning the annuity contract. Claimants may not exert any "control" over the annuity contract in order to be assured of tax-free payments. (Except in the case of a Qualified Settlement Fund under Treasury Reg. 1.468B)
Yes. Structured settlement annuities pay benefits to the claimant income tax free forever. Personal annuity payouts are subject to the so-called "exclusion ratio" of IRC Section 72. The exclusion ratio is calculated at the time the personal annuity is purchased from the life insurance company. It is derived by dividing the "investment" (the premium paid) in the contract by the total expected payout. The exclusion ratio is then multiplied by the annual annuity payment. The result is the portion excludable from taxation. The difference is the amount subject to annual taxation. Owners of personal annuities receive IRS Form 1099s from the life insurance company each year that state the ratio and supply the amount of annual payment that must be included in the recipient's income tax return.
It's considerable. As a general rule of thumb you will save between 25% and 35% in state and federal taxes on interest income that would otherwise be subject to tax. The exact amount would depend on your tax-bracket. Refer to the Taxable-Equivalent Yield Chart to illustrate what taxable yield (guaranteed) you would need to match the tax-free settlement annuity
Structures are exceptionally flexible and can be designed for virtually any set of needs. A relatively simple payment schedule can be set up that provides for equal payments at set intervals - for example, every month for 20 years.
Yet payments need not be in equal amounts. Someone who will need a new handicap-equipped van every six or seven years might elect to receive a larger payment every 72 months to help defray the cost. (This would presumably be in addition to the regular payments.)
Structured settlement's inherent flexibility means that they are well suited to compensate people for a wide variety of injuries.
11. Can some other entity besides the defendant or their assignee purchase the tax-exempt settlement annuity?
Yes, under certain circumstances. If conditions exist pursuant to IRC Section 468B, a Qualified Settlement Fund could step in the shoes of the defendant and as a "party to the suit or agreement" arrange for the purchase of the settlement annuity and comply with the tax codes, including Section 130.
The enactment of 26 U.S.C. § 468B created special rules for designated settlement funds, which the Secretary of the Treasury, through statutory and inherent authority, broadened in concept through the issuance of Treasury Regulations § 1.468B-1, creating the QSF to "resolve or satisfy one or more contested or uncontested claims that have resulted or may result from an event (or related series of events) that has occurred and that has given rise to at least one claim asserting liability...(ii) Arising out of a tort...." [26 C.F.R. § 1.468B-1(c)(2).]
The authority of the court to create and oversee the QSF is absolute: "A fund, account, or trust satisfies the requirements of this paragraph (c) [defining a qualified settlement fund] if...it is established pursuant to an order of, or is approved by, the United States, any state (including the District of Columbia), territory, possession, or political subdivision thereof, or any agency or instrumentality (including a court of law) of any of the foregoing and is subject to the continuing jurisdiction of that governmental authority." [26 C.F.R. § 1.468B-1(c)(1).]
There is a wide range of benefits, depending on the circumstances of the case. However, options frequently considered include:
- Up-front cash
- Level payments made monthly or at other appropriate intervals
- Payments with increases in level amounts or percentage increases
- Payments guaranteed for life, or for a fixed period of years or both
- Level payments supplemented by periodic payments of lump sums
People generally choose a life annuity with a guarantee period. For example, $1500 per month for life with a 20 year guarantee. Payments will be paid a minimum of 20 years and then for the life of the person thereafter.
Payments will continue each month until the 20 years have ended. Payments will be made to your estate, or your beneficiary if you designated one.
Rated Age is the term used to describe an adjusted age given by medical underwriters based on an analysis of health impairments - related to the injury or pre-existing. This rated age is used to calculate the annuity costs or benefits for that individual. Many injured claimants also have significant health problems or habits, such as smoking, alcohol abuse, heart disease, high blood pressure and/or diabetes. This rating process directly affects the cost of the annuity (favorably) because the life insurance company is of the opinion that they will make payments over a shorter life span, therefore requiring less of a premium deposit to assume the lifetime payment obligation. Conversely, assuming a fixed premium deposit allocated for the annuity, increased annuity benefits will be paid to the individual over their lifetime.
For the lifetime financial security they provide and because people want to transfer the risk of living a long time to an insurance company. One of the the most difficult aspects of financial planning is not knowing how long you will live. With a life annuity, you cannot outlive your payment stream.
18. Would someone be better off with and investment adviser that might promise a higher overall rate of return instead of the tax-free annuity?
It is very unlikely. If you gave the cash to the investment adviser, he has to guarantee an after-tax return higher than the insurance company because of the taxes and ongoing management fees that will need to be paid and deducted from his/her program. A structured annuity has no annual fees that reduce returns. Remember also, only life insurance companies can offer life payments.
Because structured settlements are transactions that are not very familiar to them and are only are available for those with physical injury lawsuits. Many people haven't heard of them, including most investment advisers. If he insists it can't be true, refer him to section 104(a) and 130(c) of the IRS code.
By commission paid by the annuity company. We are NOT compensated in any way by the defendant or insurer purchasing the annuity to fund the settlement. There is no cost to the plaintiff or defendant and/or insurer for customary services provided to broker the annuity. This includes initial and ongoing consultations, annuity price / benefit analysis, settlement document review, annuity application and policy issuance.
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