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The secondary market for life insurance policies developed in the 1980s in response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Those afflicted began to feel the financial constraints of their rapidly increasing need for medical care or inability to work and had few feasible options at hand. So, they turned to their existing life insurance policies. Realizing that their shorter life expectancies suddenly transformed these policies into valuable financial assets, they began to offer them to interested buyers. By selling their policies, which in many cases were a financial burden of their own, the pioneers of viaticals were able to finance the medical care they desperately needed, maintain lives marked by dignity, and free themselves from mounting pressures and financial collapse.

As advancements in medicine improved, notably in HIV & AIDS treatments, the viatical and life settlement industry re-oriented its philosophy and focus. Today, the market continues to thrive by offering policy owners (no longer only terminally ill ones) the opportunity to sell their existing life insurance policies. These are no longer referred to as viaticals but rather life settlements and are generally defined as the sale of a life insurance policy owned by a person of advanced age with a limited life expectancy who no longer wants or needs to maintain that insurance coverage.
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