If you decide that selling a life-insurance policy — making a life settlement deal — is your best option, you want to ensure you negotiate a fair deal. To get a ballpark estimate, use the free tool at policysettlement.com. But that's just a start.

• Get multiple offers. "There are about 60 different life-settlement companies, and they all have unique buying criteria," says Daniel Anderson, chief executive of Madison Brokerage, in Morristown, N.J. That means that brokers like Anderson who present your information to investors can, and should, drive a hard bargain on your behalf.

• Find out how much money each participant in the deal is getting. "In some cases, the brokers are making the same amount as, or more than, the consumer," says Jim Poolman, who helped develop the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' model life-settlements law, which several states have recently passed or are in the process of adopting.

Ask specifically how much money each person or company is getting, not just percentages. Sometimes the commission percentage is based on the full death benefit, and sometimes it's based on the purchase price. Ideally, the commission shouldn't be charged against the part of your settlement that is the existing cash value because that's yours to take anyway.

• Ask who will own your policy. Most investors are now large banks and other institutional investors that own big pools of policies (similar to the way mortgages are securitized) and not individuals who are counting the days until you die. Ask how often the life-settlement company will contact you after you sell your policy. You don't need frequent calls inquiring if you've been in the hospital.

• Ask about privacy. To get a quote, you must authorize the broker to view your medical records. Find out who else will have access and who will have your name after you sell the policy. Insist that the broker withhold your name, address and other identifying information from anything sent to big investors, who should care only about your age, health and the type and cost of the insurance they're being pitched to buy.

• Talk with independent experts. Before accepting an offer, run it by an independent financial adviser whose compensation is not based on whether you sell the policy. Be particularly wary of any insurance salesperson who is pushing hard to have you sell your policy and then buy a new one.

A trustworthy way to judge an offer is to use insurance expert Glenn Daily's "What's My Policy Worth?" service (www.whatsmypolicyworth.com). He charges $1,895, so this makes sense only if your payout would be large.


Kimberly Lankford is a contributing editor to Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to moneypower@kiplinger.com.