Annuities are complex products designed to meet a number of complex needs. For many, they are the lynchpin in a secure retirement. For many others, they are shrouded in mystery: How do they work, who do they work for, and when should they be purchased?
To answer these questions well, you need clear, concise definitions to a complete annuity glossary. Here, we’ve collected a shortlist of terms that may very well come up in conversations with clients. How many of them do you know?
annuity certain: An annuity that pays a specified amount for a definite and specified period of time, such as 5 or 10 years, with remaining payments going to a designated beneficiary if the annuitant dies before the end of the specified period.
annuity certain, life: An annuity payable for a specified minimum number of periods or, if longer, for as long as the annuitant lives; a combination of an annuity certain and a life annuity.
cash refund annuity: A cash refund annuity pays a lump-sum cash benefit to a beneficiary if the annuitant dies before a recovery of premiums paid. The lump-sum cash benefit is equal to the difference between the total amount paid by the purchaser over the total annuity payments received before the annuitant’s death.
consideration: Consideration is an essential element of a binding contract. In an annuity contract, the policyowner’s consideration is the money that an individual pays to an insurance company in exchange for a financial instrument that provides a stream of payments for a given length of time; the insurance company’s consideration is the promise(s) contained in the contract. An annuity consideration may be made as a lump sum or as a series of gradual payments.
delivery of policy: Delivery is, in general and nonlegal terms, the presentation of the policy to the policyowner. Actual delivery is legally determined by the intent of the parties and, therefore, does not necessarily require that the policy physically change hands. For instance, a conditional binding receipt (or, at times, verbal acknowledgement) may constitute delivery.
flexible premium annuity: An annuity that allows the owner of the contract to vary premium payments (within limits) from year to year.
indexed universal life insurance (annuities): These policies have all the traditional features of regular universal life policies except that, similar to variable universal life, the interest crediting method is based upon the performance of one or more indexes, typically of stocks, such as the S&P 500, the Russell 2000, and other large and small, foreign and domestic, value and growth stock indexes. In contrast with variable universal life, these policies still give policyowners a minimum crediting rate guarantee assuring that they will not lose money in periods when the underlying index values fall. Thus, policyowners can enjoy the upside potential of stock investments when stock values rise, but be protected from losses when stock values fall. Insurance companies offer a similar indexed interest crediting rate design feature with their indexed annuities.
installment refund annuity: A life annuity that will continue to make payments to a stipulated beneficiary after the death of the annuitant until the total payments equal the consideration paid to the insurer. (For contrast, see cash refund annuity.)
joint and survivor annuity: A life annuity payable over the lives of two or more annuitants that continues to make payments until the death of the last surviving annuitant.
joint and X-percent survivor annuity: An annuity that pays an income to two individuals. The specified percentage of the joint income continues to the survivor for life if the principal annuitant dies first. If the secondary annuitant dies first, the unreduced joint benefit continues to the principal annuitant for life. In its second-death form, X percent of the joint income is paid to the survivor regardless of which individual dies first. Common percentages are 100 percent (full), 75 percent (three-fourths), 66 percent (two-thirds) or 50 percent (one-half).
retirement income policy: A type of limited-pay life insurance contract designated to build cash values with the principal objective of funding a desired level of guaranteed monthly income for life, beginning at a certain age, usually 65. Unlike annuities, they also provide a death benefit.
tontine: A type of insurance policy whereby a group of policyowners share various advantages on such terms that upon the death or default of any policyowner in the group, his or her advantages are distributed among the remaining policyowners on the expiration of an agreed period. (See with respect to deposit term life insurance.)
variable annuity accumulation unit: A unit similar to a share in a mutual fund that represents a share of a contract owner’s ownership in the separate account backing the contract during the years prior to the annuity starting date. The value of the unit fluctuates in relation to changes in the market prices of the separate variable annuity portfolio securities owned by the insurance company and with investment income earned on these securities.
These definitions were taken from Tools & Techniques of Life Insurance Planning, which delivers detailed information about the entire range of life insurance products that can be used by estate and financial planners in a wide variety of circumstances. It includes planning techniques for retirement income needs, estate and gift tax avoidance, estate liquidity needs, and long-term care planning.