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Avoiding Beneficiary Befuddlement

Challenges AheadRetirement plans are complicated creatures to administer so it perhaps is not surprising that the process of determining the beneficiary of a deceased participant can present its own set of challenges and, if things go awry, expose a plan to paying twice for the same benefit.

These risks were recently highlighted in an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision decided in the aftermath of the Supreme Court case of Kennedy v. Plan Administrator for DuPont Savings and Investment Plan.  In that 2009 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a beneficiary designation naming a spouse had to be given effect even though the spouse had subsequently waived her interest in any of her husband’s retirement benefits in a divorce agreement.

In the 11th Circuit case, Ruiz v. Publix Super Markets, the question was

IRS Views on Self-Certification of Financial Hardship

IRS Views on Self-Certification of Financial Hardship

March 15, 2017

Authored by: Richard Arenburg and Denise Erwin

DesolationIn today’s virtual world, we suspect most plan sponsors rely upon the self-certification process to document and process 401(k) distributions made on account of financial hardship. The IRS has recently issued examination guidelines for its field agents for their use in determining whether a self-certification process has an adequate documentation procedure.  While these examination guidelines do not establish a rule that plan sponsors must follow, we believe most plan sponsors will want to ensure that their self-certification processes are consistent with these guidelines to minimize the potential for any dispute over the acceptability of its practices in the event of an IRS audit.

The examination guidelines describe three required components for the self-certification process:

(1)        the plan sponsor or TPA must provide a notice to participants containing certain required

Will the ACA Get Trumped?

Will the ACA Get Trumped?

November 9, 2016

Authored by: Chris Rylands and Richard Arenburg

Now that the historic election between the two most unpopular candidates in recent memory has been called for Donald Trump, the questions (of which there are many) now facing the President-Elect and the rest of us are how a President Trump will govern.  One of his campaign promises (and a favorite Republican talking point) was the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with something else.  (Its recent premium hikes were even cited by his campaign manager as a reason voters would choose him.)  So is that going to happen?

At this point, we cannot know for sure (and given the beating that prognosticators took this election cycle, we’re not sure we want to guess).  However, we can identify a few hurdles that might make it harder.

Republicans Need a Plan First.  One of the major hurdles is Republicans themselves have yet to completely

Cautionary Observations from the Proposed 457 Regulations

Governmental Buildings and MoneyAfter more than nine years of deliberations, the IRS has finally released proposed regulations governing all types of deferred compensation plans maintained by non-profit organizations and governmental entities.

In issuing these regulations, the IRS reiterates its long-standing theme that these regulations are intended to work in harmony with, and be supplemental to, the 409A regulations. However, the IRS provides little guidance on how these regulations interact with each other.  The following discussion focuses on 3 key aspects of the new guidance: the severance exemption, the substantial risk of forfeiture requirement, and leave programs.

As with the 409A regulations, the 457 regulations exempt severance pay plans from the rules and taxes applicable to deferred compensation. The 457

Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule: Employers Should Not Overlook Impact on HSAs

HSAThe new Department of Labor rule defining the scope of who is an ERISA fiduciary (see our prior post here) has caused much consternation among investment professionals.  Much of the new rule is focused on reworking the outer fringes of the ERISA landscape capturing those in the investment industry offering IRA and annuity products.

Given that investment professionals appear to be the primary target of the new fiduciary rule, employers may believe that this is one room in the ERISA house of horrors that they do not have to enter.  To a large extent that is true because the concept of fiduciary status and the fee disclosure rules, as applied to traditional retirement plans, are already well entrenched.  Still, employers need to consider whether certain providers to their retirement

Termination of a Nonqualified Retirement Plan with a Traditional Defined Benefit Formula

A recent case from a federal court in the Northern District of Georgia provides an interesting perspective on the termination of a nonqualified retirement plan with a traditional defined benefit formula offering lifetime annuity payments. In Taylor v. NCR Corporation et. al., NCR elected to terminate such a nonqualified retirement plan. The termination decision not only precluded new entrants to the plan and the cessation of benefit accruals for active employees, but it also affected retirees in payout status receiving lifetime payments. Those retirees received lump sum payments discounted to present value in lieu of the lifetime payments then being paid to them.

At the time NCR terminated the plan, its provisions apparently provided that the plan could be terminated at any time provided that “no such action shall adversely affect any Participant’s, former Participant’s or Spouse’s accrued benefits prior to such action under the Plan. . . ” The

Overpayments to Participants

Hand Over the MoneyThe IRS has clarified its correction guidance recently to say that errors made in overpaying participants for their benefits can be cured by employer make-up contributions, rather than by pursuing participants and beneficiaries for the overpayments they have received. In issuing this clarification, the IRS has aligned itself with the views of the Department of Labor, which has issued advisory opinions that date back to the 1970s that essentially take the same position.

This avenue of correction is particularly welcome given the apparent reluctance of at least some courts to require repayments by overpaid participants. A federal district court recently allowed a participant to use equitable estoppel as a basis to prevent a pension plan from

Discretionary Clawback Policies: Risk of Variable Stock Plan Accounting

ChartCompanies should be aware that at least some major accounting firms are questioning whether discretionary aspects of clawback policies trigger variable accounting for compensatory equity awards granted by those companies. Existing accounting guidance (ASC 718-10-30-24) would seem to suggest that clawback features should not disrupt fixed accounting treatment because of their contingent nature.

Now, however, PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPGM, at least, are publicly expressing concerns about clawback policies focusing on their discretionary, rather than contingent, nature. A 2013 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of 100 companies indicated that nearly 80% of those companies had clawback policies that had problematic discretionary provisions. A clawback policy could involve discretion as to what circumstances it may apply; whether it should be applied; and, if applied, how severely it should be applied. It seems that all aspects of discretion may be problematic. Companies

Florida Stamp Tax

Florida Stamp Tax

September 26, 2014

Authored by: Richard Arenburg

FloridaIf your 401(k) plan maintains a participant loan program, you may discover that you have compliance concerns thanks to a relatively obscure Florida tax statue. 

Under its revenue laws, Florida imposes a document tax on loan transactions that are made, signed, executed, issued, or otherwise transacted in the State.  The Florida Department of Revenue has specifically ruled that 401(k) plan loans are subject to the tax.  The law further provides that no state court may enforce the provisions of a promissory note if the document tax is not paid. 

We believe it would be a challenge to sustain a position that the Florida statute is preempted by ERISA.  A failure to pay the tax, therefore, could mean that a 401(k) plan is extending loans that are not adequately

SCOTUS Speaks in Quality Stores: Severance Payments are Subject to FICA Taxes

On March 25, 2014, the United States Supreme Court issued its unanimous (8-0) decision in U.S.  v Quality Stores, 572 U.S. ____ (2014).  In its opinion authored by Justice Kennedy, the Court held that the severance payments at issue constituted taxable wages for FICA purposes.  The severance payments in question were made to employees in connection with an involuntary termination, were varied based on job seniority and time served, and were not linked to the receipt of state unemployment benefits.  In so holding, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and resolved a split in the courts.  See CSX Corp. v. United States, 518 F. 3d 1328 (Fed. Cir.  2008).

The Court reasoned that severance payments of the type described fit plainly within the definition of “wages” under Section 3121 of the Internal Revenue Code, which defines “wages” for FICA tax

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