Just south of Great Falls, Montana, Sandy and Lawrence Foreman-Kenik are grappling with the reality that very soon, their retirement plans are going to fall apart, thanks to a sharp decrease in payments to Sandy’s structured settlement annuity. The cuts are part of the liquidation plan set for the Executive Life Insurance Company of New York.
Sandy’s first husband, John Foreman, suffered a critical brain injury in 1982 as a result of an automotive accident. He would go on to live for another 25 years, but with the mind of a three-year-old child, requiring constant care and oversight. Sandy sued over John’s injuries, but the terms of her settlement forbid her from talking about any details as to what caused John’s injuries or what parties might have been involved.
The monetary aspect of her settlement was in the form of a structured settlement annuity, which was the only option presented to her. Faced with the need for a steady income stream so she could raise her and John’s three children, Sandy accepted the offer. By this time, Sandy had married her second and current husband, Lawrence.
“I was just happy she didn’t have to worry about raising her kids,” Lawrence says of the structured settlement offer. “Maybe I should have asked more questions or gotten more involved. But I was told “This is the best way to do it, and this is what we’re going to do.”
After John had been in a hospital for over a year, Sandy and Lawrence took him to rehabilitation centers, which were extremely expensive.
“One of the places we went to was $16,000 a month and after three months, they said they couldn’t keep taking our money because John was not going to get any better,” Sandy says. The money for this treatment cleaned out John’s settlement, and the remaining costs Sandy paid for out of her own settlement. What was left over, she used to raise her kids. The terms of her settlement also prohibit her from disclosing how much her settlement is worth.
John still needed intense care, however, so Sandy and Lawrence used a sizeable portion of her payment income to build a kind of nursing center for John so they could take care of him from their own home. Sandy had been a nurse before John’s injury; now he was her only patient.
Almost 25 years to the day he was hurt, John died when he choked on a piece of food he placed into his mouth. His settlement payments ended when he died.
Sandy’s settlement is a monthly payment for the duration of her life. Every five years, she receives a little bit larger sum of money. Like many ELNY payees, this amount will be cut by nearly half when the insolvent company’s liquidation plan kicks in early next year.
“We have been living off of this money. This is our income,” Sandy explains. “But now, we are being cut back to what we were getting in ’82.” Because Sandy spent her working years caring for John instead of holding a job, she does not qualify for Social Security or Medicare. Her annuity payments were supposed to counter that. Now, they will not.
Lawrence tried to call the 1-800 numbers provided by the New York Liquidation Bureau in the December 7 letter he received about ELNY’s impending liquidation. It was not helpful. All the call center did, he says, was read back to him information already on the liquidation letter. Any questions were answered with scripted answers.
“It’s such a frustrating thing,” Lawrence says. “New York might as well be on Mars to us, being from Montana. Sometimes, you just want to strangle something because the whole thing is so bizarre.
The whole experience has totally soured Sandy and Lawrence off of structured settlement annuities, as well as annuities in general. “They say you’ll get this return, but it’s still a gamble,” Lawrence says. “Your money is sitting someplace and somebody is investing it for you.”
When asked about the consumer protections in place to ensure monies like that will be there when customers need them, Sandy laughs bitterly. “Yeah, right.”