Transfer Assignment Life Insurance

A true story, which occurred more than a century ago:

John C. Burchard was the owner of a life insurance policy on himself. Burchard had made two premium payments on the policy, but was under financial duress and currently late on the third payment. Burchard also needed a surgical operation, but had no money for the procedure.

In an effort to solve both his financial and health issues, Mr. Burchard made the following proposal to Dr. A.H. Grigsby: Burchard would sell his life insurance policy to Dr. Grigsby in exchange for $100 and the operation. Dr. Grigsby also would assume the responsibility for paying future premiums. In doing so, Dr. Grigsby, as the new owner, could determine the beneficiary and take control of policy benefits, including the cash values. The two parties agreed to the arrangement, defined the terms, and executed the agreement.

About a year later, Burchard died.

Dr. Grigsby, as owner of the policy, attempted to file a claim and receive the death benefits, the insurance company initially declined the claim, saying Dr. Grigsby did not have an insurable interest. Then the executor of Burchard’s estate, R.L. Russell, filed suit to have the proceeds be paid to the estate.

Eventually the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and on December 4, 1911, returned a decision – in favor of Dr. Grigsby. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. delivered the majority of the court. The essential issue at the heart of his opinion is contained in this brief excerpt:

“…(L)ife insurance has become in our days one of the best recognized forms of investment and self-compelled saving. So far as reasonable safety permits, it is desirable to give to life policies the ordinary characteristics of property…To deny the right to sell except to persons having such an interest is to diminish appreciably the value of the contract in the owner’s hands.”

(You can read the entire opinion HERE.)

The Impact of Grigsby vs. Russell

Justice Holmes’ decision formally established an important characteristic of life insurance: even though a relationship of insurable interest must exist between the insured and the owner of the policy at the time it is issued, ownership privileges can be transferred or assigned at a later date to parties who do not have a relationship of insurable interest.

While most consumers have awareness of the primary life insurance benefits (the death benefit, and in some instances, cash value accumulations), they may not be aware of the “property” advantages of life insurance. Not unlike real estate, gold bullion, a nice vehicle, or other tangible assets, life insurance has additional advantages for the owner:

1. The owner can name or change the policy beneficiary.

2. The owner can borrow against the policy. (Oftentimes policy-owners believe they are actually borrowing their cash value itself when they borrow from an insurance company, but in reality, they are borrowing against it, while the cash value stays in the policy, earning dividends.)

3. The policy can be sold to another party. (In many situations, but not all. Caution – this is not a do-it-yourself matter!) For more on why and how seniors are selling life insurance policies, see our articles on “Life Settlements: Why Seniors are Selling Their Life Insurance Policies” and “The Controversy Over Life Settlements.”

4. The policy can be assigned as collateral for a loan. In this post, we’ll explore Collateral Assignments in more detail.

Collateral Assignments

Collateral assignments commonly appear in transactions involving financial institutions, and they can also figure prominently in transactions with private lenders. In a collateral assignment, the policy serves as collateral for a loan, ensuring the lender will be repaid if the borrower dies before making full repayment. Collateral assignments can be attached to any type of life insurance policy, and the terms are subject to negotiation.

The inclusion of a life insurance policy in a transaction may have a significant impact on one’s ability to borrow, because the policy can be used as collateral. Especially if the loan is unsecured by other assets (such as a house or auto) the inclusion of life insurance can be crucial to loan approval. If there is no life insurance, the lender may even require it as a condition of the loan.

Absolute vs. Conditional Assignments

There are two types of policy assignment: absolute and conditional. An absolute assignment transfers all the rights in the insurance policy to the assignee, including the responsibility to pay any remaining premiums. It essentially transfers ownership to a new party. A conditional assignment is temporary, and the transfer of ownership rights and interest in the policy is limited to the terms of the agreement, such as until the repayment of a loan. When the conditions of the agreement have been fulfilled, the assignment is terminated.

Most life insurance assignment agreements focus on the insurance benefit, and make the lender the primary beneficiary, even ahead of a policy owner’s spouse and/or children. The assignments will typically specify the amount of money the lender is entitled to if the borrower dies. If the policy’s death benefits exceed the loan amount, the excess money would be distributed to the owner’s beneficiaries per the original provisions of the policy.

A policy’s cash values may also serve as collateral for a loan. For example, an assignment may specify that the lender can withdraw a pre-defined sum from the cash value in the event the borrower defaults on the loan. Cash value assignments typically limit the lender’s entitlement to accumulated cash value, the borrower’s heirs still protected by the policy death benefit.

As property, a life insurance policy has some unique characteristics. When integrated with other assets as part of a comprehensive strategy, the collateral value of an insurance benefit can enhance other aspects of your financial life while providing essential financial protection.

Note: There may be potential tax consequences involved in the transfer or assignment of a life insurance policy, so always consult a financial professional!

ARE YOU MAXIMIZING YOUR LIFE INSURANCE ASSETS? To learn more about the many ways that life insurance can be used in your financial strategy, we recommend Kim D. H. Butler’s booklet, Live Your Life Insurance.  It’s a quick read that outlines many powerful strategies for using your life insurance now, while you can enjoy the benefits!

Insurance is a contract between the insurance company (insurer) and you (policyholder). It is a contract with full of jargon. As much as possible, we must try to understand all the insurance terms mentioned in the policy bond (certificate). One such insurance jargon which is mostly used is Assignment.

If you are planning to apply for a home loan, your home loan provider may surely use this term. So, what is Assignment? Why assignment of a life insurance policy is required? What are different types of assignment? What are the differences between Assignment & Nomination?

What is Assignment?

Assignment of a life insurance policy means transfer of rights from one person to another. You can transfer the rights on your insurance policy to another person / entity for various reasons. This process is referred to as ‘Assignment’.

The person who assigns the insurance policy is called the Assignor(policyholder) and the one to whom the policy has been assigned, i.e. the person to whom the policy rights have been transferred is called the Assignee.

Once the rights have been transferred from the Assignor to the Assignee, the rights of the policyholder stands cancelled and the assignee becomes the owner of the insurance policy.

Assigning one’s life insurance policy to a bank is fairly common. In this case, the bank becomes the policy owner whereas the original policyholder continues to be the life assured on whose death the bank or the policy owner is entitled to receive the insurance money.

Types of Assignment

The assignment of an insurance  policy can be made in two ways;

  • Absolute Assignment– Under this process, the complete transfer of rights from the Assignor to the Assignee will happen. There are no conditions applicable.
    • Example: Mr. PK Khan owns a life insurance policy of Rs 1 Crore. He would like to gift this policy to his wife. He wants to make ‘absolute assignment’ of this policy in his wife’s name, so that the death benefit (or) maturity proceeds can be directly paid to her. Once the absolute assignment is made, Mrs. Khan will be the owner of the policy and she may again transfer this policy to someone else.
  • Conditional Assignment – Under this type of assignment, the transfer of rights will happen from the Assignor to the Assignee subject to certain conditions. If the conditions are fulfilled then only the Policy will get transferred from the Assignor to the Assignee.
    • Example: Mr. Mallya owns a term insurance policyof Rs 50 Lakh. He wants to apply for a home loan of Rs 50 Lakh. His banker has asked him to assign the term policy in their name to get the loan. Mallya can conditionally assign the policy to the home loan provider to acquire a home loan. If Mallya meets an untimely death (during the loan tenure), the banker can receive the death benefit under this policy and get their money back from the insurance company.
    • If Mallya repays the entire home loan amount, he can get back his term insurance policy. The policy would be reassigned to Mallya on the repayment of the loan.
    • In case if the death benefit received by the banker is more than the outstanding loan amount, the insurer will pay the bank the outstanding dues and pay the balance to the nominee directly. The balance amount (if any) will be paid to Mallya’s beneficiaries (legal heirs / nominee).

How to assign a life insurance policy?

The Assignment must be in writing and a notice to that effect must be given to the insurer. Assignment of a life insurance policy may be made by making an endorsementto that effect in the policy document (or) by executing a separate ‘Assignment Deed’.  In case of assignment deed, stamp duty has to be paid. An Assignment should be signed by the assignor and attested by at least one witness.

Downloadabsolute assignment deed sample format / conditional assignment deed format.

Download‘application for assignment’ sample format.

Nomination Vs Assignment

Nomination is a right given to the policyholder to appoint a person(s) to receive the death benefit (death claim). The person in whose favor the nomination is effected is termed as ‘nominee’. The nominee comes into picture only after the death of the life assured (policy holder). The nominee will not have the absolute right over the money (claim proceeds). The other legal heirs of the policy holder can also recover money from the nominee.

(However, as per Insurance Laws (Amendment) Act, 2015 – If an immediate family member such as spouse / parent / child is made as the nominee, then the death benefit will be paid to that person and other legal heirs will not have a claim on the money)

Under nomination, the rights of the policyholder are not transferred. But, assignment is transfer of rights, interest and title of the policy to some other person (or) entity. To make assignment, consent of the insurer is also required.

Important Points

  • Assignment of policies can be done even when a loan is not required or for some special purposes.
  • If you assign the policy for other purpose other than taking a loan, the nomination stands cancelled.
  • If the policy is assigned, then the assignee will receive the policy benefit. Death benefit will be paid to the Nominee, in case the policy is not assigned.
  • The policy would be reassigned to you on the repayment of the loan (under conditional assignment).
  • Types of insurance policies used for assignment purpose to get business loans, generally include an endowment plan, money back policy or a ULIP. Home loan providers generally ask for the assignment of Term insurance plans on their names. (The term plan tenure should be more than the home loan tenure)
  • An assignment of a life insurance policy once validly executed, cannot be cancelled or rendered in effectual by the assignor. The only way to cancel such assignment would be to get it re-assigned by the assignee in favor of the assignor.
  • You can also raise a loan against your policy from your insurance company itself. In this case, your policy would have to be assigned to insurance company.
  • An insurer may accept the assignment or decline.(The insurer shall, before refusing to act upon the endorsement, record in writing the reasons for such refusal and communicate the same to the policy-holder not later than thirty days from the date of the policy-holder giving notice of such transfer or assignment)
  • In case of death of the absolute Assignee (to whom the policy rights have been transferred under absolute assignment), the rights under the policy will be transferred to the legal heirs of the assignee.
  • You can also assign a life insurance policy underMarried Women’s Property Act. (At the time of making the application (buying a policy), a separate MWPA form has to be filled by the proposer for it to be covered under MWP Act. Do note that the existing life insurance policies cannot be assigned under MWP Act)
  • Partial assignment or transfer of a policy can also be made. But banks will accept any of your life insurance policies as long as the sum assured is equal to or greater than the loan amount.

Hope you find this post informative and do share your comments.

(Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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