25 January 2006
I refer to the letter "Does buying an annuity help avoid estate duty" by Ms Chua Qiing Yuan (St Times 24 January).
Ms Chua referred to my previous letter that was printed in the Straits Times on 29 December. I wish to clarify this matter.
Under a life annuity, the purchaser pays a capital sum to receive an income stream for a lifetime. The life insurance company estimates the future income from investing the capital sum and pays out the total capital and income over the expected lifetime of the annuitant. On death, the capital sum is treated as fully expended.
For example, a male annuitant at age 62 can invest $100,000 in a participating life annuity that pays back a monthly income of $524 for a lifetime. This represents a notional return of 6.3% on the invested sum. I use the word "notional return" as it includes a refund of the capital. The monthly income may be increased by a bonus yearly, depending on the actual investment return of the fund. The bonus will increase the notional return.
The annuitant can opt to receive a lower monthly payment of $446 in return for a capital guarantee. In this case, the balance of the capital sum (excluding interest), less the annuity payments received, will be refunded in the event of early death of the annuitant. If the total annuity payment is more than the capital sum, there is no refund.
If there is a refund at the time of death, that refund will be treated as part of the estate and is subject to estate duty. This estate duty is likely to be small, as a significant portion of the capital may have been paid back already.
Most annuitants are likely to survive beyond the refund period or may have bought a life annuity that does not have a capital guarantee. In this case, there is no estate duty.
The key advantage of a life annuity is that it pays an attractive income that is guaranteed for a lifetime. The payout continues even after the capital sum and accrued income has been fully paid out. This is only possible because the annuitants who die earlier leaves behind the balance of their money to pay the annuitants who live longer. This is the concept of sharing of risks.
There is another signficant advantage, often overlooked. The monthly income is
fully exempt from personal income tax. This applies to most life annuities, except those purchased under some special arrangement, such as the Supplementary Retirement Scheme.
NTUC Income has 29,000 annuitants who have invested a total of $1,450 million in these contracts. The average investment is $50,000 per annuitant. The average payout is $4,100 yearly, presenting a notional return of 8.2% on the invested sum.
Tan Kin Lian
Chief Executive Officer
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