What is a Life-Only Option?
The life-only option, which is generally associated with annuities, describes the contractual arrangement whereby annuity payments cease upon the owner's death.
How Does a Life-Only Option Work?
To understand how this works, let's assume you'd like to invest in an annuity that, after you retire, will provide guaranteed monthly payments of $1,000 to you every month for as long as you live. Under the terms of this annuity contract, you're required to deposit $175,000 to get the guaranteed future stream of income. If the contract has a life-only option, payments will stop on the day you die. This also means if, for example, only $100,000 of the $175,000 has been paid out, the insurance company keeps whatever is left over.
Why Does a Life-Only Option Matter?
An annuity is a contract whereby an investor makes a lump-sum payment to an insurance company, bank, or other financial institution that, in return, agrees to give the investor either a higher lump-sum payment in the future or a series of guaranteed payments. The size of the monthly payments is a reflection of the calculation the insurance company makes regarding the estimated lifespan of the owner (the annuitant).
Some insurance companies offer a life-plus-five option or life-plus-ten option, whereby the annuity payments go to a beneficiary (or beneficiaries) for five or ten years after the annuitant's death if the death is sooner than expected. Annuities with a life-only option tend to offer larger monthly payments than annuities that allow the owner to name a beneficiary.
Although annuities are controversial because they tend to come with high fees and commissions, they may be good bets for some income investors. Ultimately, the appropriateness of an annuity is dependent on the investor's financial goals, tax situation, and the types of annuities available. Inflation and interest rate expectations may affect the type of annuity an investor chooses, as will the investor's wishes for his or her dependents and heirs.