To find a firm that no longer exists, you have to follow a winding path of previous incarnations, subsidiary companies, and name changes. It's messy work. But when your money is on the line, the only option is to start digging.
That's what I discovered when I unearthed the paperwork from a qualified structured settlement dating back nearly 18 years. The structure was established when my daughter was just an infant after an accident that almost cost her two of her toes.
Structures can consist of three parts: up-front cash, an annuity that will make immediate monthly payments, and an annuity that will make one or more lump sum payments in the future. In my case, there was some up-front cash for medical bills and an annuity for lump sum payments when my daughter reached adulthood.
It stipulated that she would receive three equal annual payments starting on her 18th birthday -- just in time to make a dent in those expected large college tuition bills.
But we've moved twice since the structure was set up. And when I looked at the address on record in the 13-page settlement document, I realized one thing. If anyone sends a check, my daughter will never get it.
And then I realized something even worse: It wasn't going to be easy updating the records. I negotiated my own settlement, so I couldn't just call my attorney.
As for the attorney who represented the manufacturer of the questionable product... he's apparently dead or retired. One way or another, he's no longer practicing law in New York State, according to the state lawyer database.
So I moved on to the companies mentioned in the document: USF&G, the property and casualty company that represented the manufacturer, and Thomas Jefferson Life Insurance Co., the company that issued the annuity. The corporate history gave me a headache.
Thomas Jefferson Life Insurance Co. was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fidelity and Guaranty Life Insurance Co., which in turn was wholly owned by United States Fidelity and Guaranty Co., also known as USF&G, an underwriter of multiple lines of property and casualty insurance.
In 1981, USF&G became a subsidiary of United States Fidelity and Guaranty Corp., a newly formed holding company. In 1998, that holding company was acquired by The St. Paul Companies, which was later acquired by The Travelers (NYSE:TRV).
The Thomas Jefferson subsidiary, meanwhile, was still owned by F&G Life... until 2001, when The St. Paul Companies sold F&G Life and its subsidiaries to Old Mutual US Life Holdings, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Old Mutual US Holdings Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Old Mutual plc (LSE:OML) of London, England.
Say what? Call who?
There was one other company mentioned in the document: Kenneth H. Wells & Associates of Aurora, Colorado. And as you might expect, it not longer exists.
It took a little further checking to find that Kenneth H. Wells is now part of EPS Settlements Group, the second largest national structured settlement firm. That was the key: I called there and got a number for F&G Life (which is supposed to be known as Old Mutual Financial Life, but apparently it isn't... go figure).
Anyway, to make a long story even longer, I called F&G, confirmed the structure, updated the address, and felt a whole lot better about my daughter's financial future.
But here's what I learned along the way, with some help from the National Structured Settlements Trade Association in Washington, D.C. If you have a structured settlement, don't toss it in your "I'll think about this later" drawer.
- Keep your paperwork. It would have been much harder to trace the structure without the claim number or names of any of the companies associated with the settlement.
- Check in once a year. Contact the company that holds the annuity to verify it is still in business. It's easier to track a change in ownership after a few months than after a few years.
- Update your address, phone number, and email address with the company holding the annuity as often as necessary.
- If you can't locate your paperwork from a structured settlement, contact the attorney who handled the case, or try looking here for the name of the customer service department of your structured settlement broker.
- If the case involved a minor, you have another option. Every state has a procedure for seeking court approval of a tort settlement involving a minor. So you can go to the court in the county where the settlement was approved and ask for any filings involving your child to get information about the structured settlement.
- If you can't reach the insurance company holding the annuity, contact your state insurance or financial services department. Each state has reserve requirements for insurance companies that operate within its boundaries as well as information on mergers and acquisitions, so someone at the state level should be able to help you track your company down.
- Don't rush to "sell" your structured settlement because you saw an ad on TV. They are not generally the best financial deals. In fact, every state has a unique Structured Settlement Protection Act, which often requires court approval before you can sell your structure.