Saving for one’s own retirement is something everyone needs to consider. There are many financial vehicles that can be used when traveling along the road to retirement. One of these financial vehicles is an annuity. However, annuities are often not suitable for consumers, especially more elderly consumers, because of excessive “hidden” fees and large surrender charges that apply when annuities are surrendered/terminated before a certain time. This is due in part to large commissions paid to agents who sell them, who often act in their own best interest, rather than in the interest of consumers. John Waggoner of USA Today provides some sound advice in his recent article entitled “Annuities are a Retirement Option, But Be Wary of Fees:”
New California Law Requires That Insurers and Agents Verify that an Annuity is Suitable for the ConsumerSeptember 30, 2011 Scott Calvert
California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a new law that will provide increased protection to seniors and other consumers who are interested in purchasing an annuity. AB 689, which was sponsored by the California Department of Insurance and authored by Assembly Budget Committee Chair Bob Blumenfield (D-San Fernando Valley), requires that insurers verify that an annuity purchase is suitable and appropriate for the consumer based on an evaluation of his or her age, income, financial objectives and ten other factors. The bill was unanimously passed by both the state Senate and the state Assembly.
On April 25, 2011, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and California State Controller John Chiang announced that they are investigating Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (“MetLife”) for a failure to pay out life insurance benefits after learning of an insured’s death. It appears that while MetLife learned of its insured’s deaths through a database prepared by the Social Security Administration called “Death Master,” which lists all Americans who die, MetLife failed to use this information to pay legitimate claims.
As noted in the California Department of Insurance’s Press Release:
The Commissioner and the Controller are responding to preliminary findings from an audit the Controller launched in 2008, indicating that for two decades, MetLife failed to pay life insurance policy benefits to named beneficiaries or the State even after learning that an insured had died. The company has a huge number of so-called Industrial Policies, valued at an estimated $1.2 billion, which were primarily sold in the 1940s and 1950s to working-class people. The payments, which were collected weekly, typically were higher than the final death benefit. The Controller’s unclaimed property audit indicates that MetLife did not take steps to determine whether policy owners of dormant accounts are still alive, and if not, pay the beneficiaries, or the State if they cannot be located.
In addition, the preliminary findings revealed that MetLife may have similarly failed to contact the owners of annuity contracts:
Simultaneously, the preliminary findings show, when MetLife knew that an owner of an annuity contract – which generates income for the policy owner at the time the annuity matures – had died, or the annuity had matured, the company did not contact the policy holder or beneficiary, even though it subscribed to the “Death Master” database. Furthermore, MetLife continued making premium payments from the policy holder’s account until the cash reserves were used up, and then cancelled the contract.
While Monday’s press release was limited to the State’s investigation of MetLife, both the “Commissioner and Controller believe that these practices are not isolated, but are systemic in the insurance industry.”
If you believe you have a life insurance policy or annuity issued by MetLife, or any other insurer, for which you have failed to properly receive life insurance benefits, contact McKennon Law Group PC for a free consultation.
In recent years there have been many cases of insurance agents selling unsuitable annuities to members of the public, especially seniors. These annuities typically involve large premiums and very large cash surrender charges. The large cash surrender charges are often in place for at least the first five years of the annuity and usually exist because of the very large commissions that are paid to the insurance agents selling them. Also, the rates of return in the annuities are often misrepresented. Insurers and their agents also often sell unsuitable annuities as part of 412(i) plans (named by the IRS Code section which applies to them), and sometimes the IRS disallows deductions, classifying them as abusive tax shelters. In order for these annuities to be financially viable for persons or businesses buying them, the purchasers must keep them in force for many years. Because many individuals and some businesses are not in a position to keep them in force for many years, and because they do not provide flexibility, they are often grossly unsuitable for the individuals or businesses purchasing them.
On March 7, 2011, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones announced new regulations aimed at protecting seniors from financial abuse by those selling seniors an unsuitable annuity. Here is the press release: