Sometimes when a plaintiff settles a case for a large sum of money, the defendant, the plaintiff's attorney, or a financial planner consulted in association with the settlement, will propose paying the settlement in installments over time rather than in a single lump sum. When a settlement is paid in this manner it is called a "structured settlement". Often the structured settlement will be created through the purchase of one or more annuities, which guarantee the future payments.
Keep in mind that companies which buy structured settlements intend to profit from their purchase, and sometimes their offers may seem quite low. You may benefit from approaching more than one company in relation to the sale of your settlement, to make sure that you obtain the highest payoff. You also want to be sure that the company which wants to buy your settlement is established, well-funded, and reputable - you don't want a fly-by-night outfit to obtain the rights to your annuities but to disappear or go bankrupt before paying you the buyout money. You may have to go to court to get a judge to approve the buyout. It is usually a good idea to consult with a lawyer before entering into an agreement to sell your settlement.
Excessive Commissions - Annuities can be highly profitable for insurance companies, and they often carry very large commissions. It is important to ensure that the commissions charged in setting up a structured settlement don't consume an inappropriate percentage of its principal.
Self-Dealing - There have been cases where the plaintiff's lawyer is also in the insurance business, and sets up a structured settlement loan (s1372.photobucket.com
) settlement on behalf of a client without disclosing that the attorney is purchasing the annuities from his own business, or is pocketing a large commission on the annuities. Similarly, there have been situations where the plaintiff's attorney has referred the client to a particular financial planner to set up a structured settlement, without disclosing that the financial planner will be paying the attorney a referral fee in relation to the client's account. Make sure that you know what financial interest, if any, your lawyer has in relation to any financial services sold or recommended by the lawyer.
Life Expectancy - It is unfortunate, but many people who receive large personal injury or workers' compensation settlements will have a shortened life expectancy as a result of their injuries. It is important to consider life expectancy in association with any structured settlement, and to consider whether it is appropriate to enter into an annuity where payments will cease upon death. Sometimes it will make sense to insist upon an annuity that pays a minimum number of payments, or one that will pay a balance into the plaintiff's estate, such that the value of the settlement is not lost to an insurance company upon the plaintiff's untimely death.