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Correcting an erroneous secondary source definition now being cited by Google

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  • Correcting an erroneous secondary source definition now being cited by Google

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    As discussed with your colleagues over Social Media, TontineTrust is building a not-for-profit global platform with the intent of raising the global savings rate and thus to alleviate some of the effects of the Pensions crisis that is no occurring in almost every country on the planet.

    Historically speaking, Tontines were the most popular savings product ever sold and in the US were credited with increasing the houshold pensions participation rate to over 50% within a generation of their introduction.

    Unfortunately the major US insurance companies issuing the Tontines were utilising the "lottery like appeal" of Tontines (as Adam Smith described it in the Wealth of Nations in 1670) for nefarious reasons and in 1906 were found to have been defrauding customers and as such were banned form selling deferred dividend policies some of which included their unfairly designed Tontine Pension products.

    For the past decade, academics worldwide have advocated for the return of Tontines to increase the global savings rate despite the false narrative the Tontines are per se illegal in the US.

    Tontine Trust has taken on the mantle to bring back Tontines in the most secure, fair, transparent manner possible and are in talks with global development banks worldwide to introduce the necessary legislation to make Tontines accessible to all level of societies as soon as possible. In this regard we are in talks with the Inter-American Development Bank as well as the Asian Development Bank.

    In Europe, Tontines are regulated in Europe under the Directive 2002/83/EC of the European Parliament which covers the 32 members countries of the European Economic Area and as the World Bank has stated, there exist many primitive tontine like structures across Africa.

    Nevertheless, on a daily basis I find myself accosted by people that state categorically that "Tontines are illegal" and it was only yesterday that anyone finally showed me why so many quickly jump to this conclusion.

    The following was what I received: (see goog.png)

    Upon searching that term myself for the very first time I find that Google authoritatively returns the answer the Tontines are illegal in the US as follows:

    (see goog2.png)
    Now clearly Google and its servers have deep respect for Cornell and therefore places great reliance upon any information published on your legal dictionary and thus I followed the link to understand why Cornell has disagreed with the majority of academia that concludes that there are no US laws restricting the sale of Tontines other than the two state specifc statutes mentioned below.

    The following is a screenshot from your legal dictionary regarding Tontines:

    (see goog3.png)

    So it seems that this legal opinion has been sourced from a third party verbatim and a link has been provided to such which reads as below confirms this;

    (see goog4.png)

    However upon further investigation, I note the following about Nolo:

    (see goog5.png)

    And that according to their homepage, Nolo is in fact merely a purveyor of legal software tools for the retail market.

    Accordingly, I would hereby beseech you to correct, but please do not disable and do not delete, the erroneous reference to Tontines being generally illegal in the US based upon the findings of the following two academic papers

    The first relevant paper was published in 2009 by Kent McKeever, Director, Arthur Diamond Law Library

    This paper is is attached and is also publicly at available at

    In this paper Mr KcKeever gives numerous examples through out his paper where the legality (or rather the alleged illegality) of Tontines have been challenged in US courts and where the courts have consistently upheld the legality of Tontine arrangements throughout the last century thereby confirming that Tontines are currently legal in the US by nature and that they are most definitely not generally illegal as incorrectly stated in the Nolo site.

    That said, it is correct to say that in there are two current state statutes in force that seemingly ban Tontines outright without, it seems, even considering the nature of the Tontine.

    As it says in Mr. McKeever's paper:


    Only Louisiana and South Carolina have actual statutes specifically outlawing tontines. Both statutes are found in the sections of their laws concerning insurance. Title 22, § 445 of the Louisiana statutes covering
    insurance reads "the sale by any individual, company, partnership, corporation, non-profit corporation or insurance company of tontine funds whereby any part of the principal or interest earned on individual
    contributions is to be used for the benefit of other contributors is hereby prohibited." 75 [LA. REV. STAT. ANN. § 22:445 (2008).] The South Carolina text, while mentioning tontines in its title-"Tontine policies prohibited"-uses classic legislatively obscure
    and verbose language which has the effect of prohibiting tontines without using the word:

    No life insurer, mutual aid association, or fraternal benefit association operating in this State is permitted to issue policies, certificates, or contracts to policyholders or members providing for
    the establishment of its policyholders or members into divisions and classes for the purpose of providing for the payment of benefits from special funds created for that purpose to the oldest member of the
    division and class or to the members of the division and class whose policy has been in force the longest period of time upon the death of
    a member in the division and class. 76 [S.C. CODE ANN. § 38-55-90 (2006).]

    Ironically, the South Carolina statutes also have another section which specifies the "[r]eserve requirements for tontine policies. 77 [S.C. CODE ANN. § 38-55-110 (2006).]

    A second paper which I have attached was published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review by Professor Jonathan Forman the biography of which is presented below (information from;

    (Professor Forman was the Professor in Residence in the Internal Revenue Service Office of Chief Counsel for the 2009-2010 academic year, he was a founding member of the Internal Revenue Service Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities (2001-2003), and he was a delegate to the 1998 and 2002 National Summits on Retirement Savings. He has also testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, the U.S. Department of Labor's Advisory Council on Employee Welfare and Pension Benefit Plans, and the Oklahoma Legislature. He also served as a member of the board of trustees of the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) from 2003-2011.

    Professor Forman was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in 1978. He is a fellow of the American College of Tax Counsel, a fellow of the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, a fellows program associate of the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a fellow of the TIAA Institute, and a member of the National Academy of Social Insurance. He is also active in the American Bar Association, the National Tax Association, and the Association of American Law Schools, and served as a member of the board of trustees of the American Tax Policy Institute from 1998-2003. Professor Forman was the Alfred P. Murrah Professor of Law from 2005-2018.)

    Professor Formans 2015 "Tontine Pensions" paper [published here:] makes a through financial and legal analysis on a suitable regulatory policy for modern tontines an notes that "only Louisiana and South Carolina have statutes that actually ban tontines".

    I could literally provide another 10 such authoritative examples if required.

    Accordingly we would request that you amend the wording of the existing excerpt so that Google may immediately find the correct answer and stop making our mission so much harder than it needs to be.

    Existing wording:

    An agreement in which investors receive annuity payments, with the special provision that when one participant dies, his or her share goes to the others (increasing the payments to the survivors). Generally, the last to die receives the remaining funds. They are illegal in the United States.

    Suggested Wording:

    An agreement in which investors receive annuity payments, with the special provision that when one participant dies, his or her share goes to the others (increasing the payments to the survivors). Generally, the last to die receives the remaining funds. They are seemingly legal in all but two states in the United States.

    If you would care to make any attribution to this change then any of the papers should be sufficient however we would not of course object to any mention of either.

    I trust that we can leave this matter in your very capable hands.

    We shall shortly be writing to Nolo and Google separately.

    Many thanks for your assistance in dealing with this matter.



  • #2
    Hi, Dean. Thank you for your note. I will pass this message along to our Director for Content Development.


    • #3

      Thank you for your post.

      On November 27th we depublished that Nolo definition, which we'd published in partnership with Nolo several years ago. It should disappear from search engine results soon (after the next time each search engine crawls our pages).

      We will have one of the law students in our employ research and draft a new article on Tontines once final exams are over and the new semester begins in early 2019.