Guide to Viatical Settlements
In the Catholic tradition, dying individuals receive the “last rites,” a series of ministrations intended to facilitate their transitions into the next world. Among these rites is the “viaticum,” a final participation in the sacrament of communion. This is viewed by the Church as an opportunity for the dying to gain spiritual sustenance for their upcoming journey.
The idea that a person who is dying needs special provisions is not unique to Catholicism. In ancient Greece, for example, family members placed a gold coin under the tongue of the deceased—payment for the ferryman who would bring them across the river Styx to the underworld.
There is no modern, secular analogue to the tradition of the viaticum. However, the practice has lent its name, and figuratively, its meaning, to a relatively new kind of investment: viatical settlements.
In a viatical settlement, a terminally or chronically ill person sells his or her life insurance policy to a third party for a lump-sum payment. In return, the third party, who may be an individual investor or a firm, takes over payments on the policy and is the beneficiary of the policy upon the death of the patient.
Related: Life Settlements