A viager is a type of reverse mortgage that is popular in France. In return for the property title, the buyer offers a down payment (the “bouquet”) and guarantees a monthly payment to the seller for the remainder of his or her life. The seller’s risk is low—if the buyer defaults the title reverts to the seller, who pockets the bouquet and any payments that have been made. The buyer is gambling that the seller will die before the total payments reach the value of the property. One can imagine the morbid optimism of the lawyer André-François Raffray, who at age 47 signed a viager agreement with the 90-year-old widow Jeanne Calment. In setting this wager he could scarcely have foreseen that payments would continue until his death at the unexceptional age of 77, or that his heirs would continue payment until Calment’s rather more remarkable death on Aug. 4, 1997. She was 122.
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