Structured settlements have become part of the statutory tort law of several common law countries including Australia, Canada, England and the United States. Structured settlements may include income tax and spendthrift requirements as well as benefits and are considered to be an asset-backed security. Often the periodic payment will be created through the purchase of one or more annuities, which guarantee the future payments. Structured settlement payments are sometimes called periodic payments and when incorporated into a trial judgment is called a “periodic payment judgment."
The United States has enacted structured settlement laws and regulations at both the federal and state levels. Federal structured settlement laws include sections of the (federal) Internal Revenue Code. State structured settlement laws include structured settlement protection statutes and periodic payment of judgment statutes. Forty-seven of the states have structured settlement protection acts created using a model promulgated by the National Conference of Insurance Legislations ("NCOIL"). Of the 47 states, 37 are based in whole or in part on the NCOIL model act. Medicaid and Medicare laws and regulations affect structured settlements. To preserve a claimant’s Medicare and Medicaid benefits, structured settlement payments may be incorporated into “Medicare Set Aside Arrangements” “Special Needs Trusts."
Structured settlements have been endorsed by many of the nations largest disability rights organizations, including the American Association of People with Disabilities  and the National Organization on Disability.
The structured settlement tax rules enacted by Congress lay down a bright line path for a structured settlement. Once the plaintiff and defense have settled the tort claim in exchange for periodic payments to be made by the defendant, the full amount of the periodic payments constitutes tax-free damages to the victim. The defendant then may assign its periodic payment obligation to a structured settlement assignment company (typically a single purpose affiliate of a life insurer) that funds its assumed obligation with an annuity purchased from its affiliated life insurer. The rules also permit the assignee to fund its periodic payment obligation under the structured settlement via U.S. Treasury obligations. However, this U.S. Treasury obligation approach is used much less frequently because of lower returns and the relative inflexibility of payment schedules available under Treasury obligations. In this way, the defense can close its books on the liability, and the claimant can receive the long-term financial security of an annuity issued by a financially strong life insurance company.
To qualify for special tax treatment, a structured settlement must meet the following requirements:
The typical structured settlement arises and is structured as follows: An injured party (the claimant) settles a tort suit with the defendant (or its insurance carrier) pursuant to a settlement agreement that provides that, in exchange for the claimants securing the dismissal of the lawsuit, the defendant (or, more commonly, its insurer) agrees to make a series of periodic payments over time. The defendant, or the property/casualty insurance company, thus finds itself with a long-term payment obligation to the claimant. To fund this obligation, the property/casualty insurer generally takes one of two typical approaches: It either purchases an annuity from a life insurance company (an arrangement called a "buy and hold" case) or it assigns (or, more properly, delegates) its periodic payment obligation to a third party ("assigned case") which in turn purchases a "qualified funding asset" to finance the assigned periodic payment obligation. Pursuant to IRC 130(d) a "qualified funding asset" may be an annuity or an obligation of the United States government.
In an unassigned case, the defendant or property/casualty insurer retains the periodic payment obligation and funds it by purchasing an annuity from a life insurance company, thereby offsetting its obligation with a matching asset. The payment stream purchased under the annuity matches exactly, in timing and amounts, the periodic payments agreed to in the settlement agreement. The defendant or property/casualty company owns the annuity and names the claimant as the payee under the annuity, thereby directing the annuity issuer to send payments directly to the claimant. If any of the periodic payments are life-contingent (i.e., the obligation to make a payment is contingent on someone continuing to be alive), then the claimant (or whoever is determined to be the measuring life) is named as the annuitant or measuring life under the annuity. In some instances the purchasing company may purchase a life insurance policy as a hedge in case of death in a settlement transfer.
In an assigned case, the defendant or property/casualty company does not wish to retain the long-term periodic payment obligation on its books.
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