What Is a Contingent Annuitant?

A contingent annuitant is someone designated by an annuitant to receive the annuitant’s payments when they pass away. When an annuity has a contingent annuitant, the annuity does not stop making payments until both the annuitant and the contingent annuitant have passed away. If the policy does not allow for a contingent annuitant, the annuity stops making payments when the annuitant dies.

How a Contingent Annuitant Works

For the same initial lump sum (or principal), an annuity that provides for a contingent annuitant may make lower payments to the annuitant and the contingent annuitant during their lifetimes since the annuity is expected to pay out for a longer period than an annuity that terminates when the annuitant passes away.

In most cases, once payments start on an annuity, a contingent annuitant's name may not be changed. This is true even if the contingent dies before the original annuitant. Contingent annuitants tend to be spouses or domestic partners.

Annuity providers will help annuitants decide which payment options to choose. For example, the benefit for a surviving annuitant may be 50%–100% of the original annuitant's benefit payment. Higher payments for the contingent tends to mean lower payments for the original annuitant.

Contingent Annuitant Annuity Options

Annuities are meant to provide a stable source of income, usually to retirees, usually in the form of recurring monthly payments, though they may be quarterly or annually as well. There are many different types of annuities, so consumers can choose one that fits their unique circumstances, including budget, age, life expectancy and the desire to provide for a surviving spouse.

Some annuities pay out for a predetermined number of years no matter what (period certain annuity), and if the annuitant dies during that period, the remaining payments go to the annuitant’s beneficiary. Other annuities pay out only until the annuitant passes away, and still others keep making payments until the contingent annuitant dies. Joint and survivor annuities are designed to provide stable income to each spouse even after one spouse passes away. Upon the first spouse’s death, these annuities might continue to pay the same monthly benefit, or they might pay two-thirds or one-half of the original monthly benefit.

There are annuities that let people invest gradually during their working years, and others that can be purchased with a lump sum. How much the annuity costs depends on how much the annuitant wants to receive in monthly payments, the annuitant’s life expectancy, and other annuity features, such as whether the annuity will have a contingent beneficiary. Basically, the more the insurance company expects to pay out, the more the annuitant will have to pay in.