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IRS Adopts State of Celebration Rule – If Valid Where Performed, You are Married for Federal Tax Purposes

In Revenue Ruling 2013-17, the Internal Revenue Service provided clear guidance to define “spouse” for all purposes under the Internal Revenue Code. A “spouse” includes a same-sex spouse whose marriage is recognized by the state in which the marriage occurred. Use of this “state of celebration” rule will greatly simplify employee benefit plan administration for employers. However, the IRS indicated in this guidance that it will provide more direction on the impact of this definition on employee benefit plans.

How Did the IRS Define the State of Celebration Rule?

These are the bottom line holdings from the IRS guidance, which apply for all purposes under the Internal Revenue Code:

  • The terms “spouse,” “husband and wife,” “husband,” and “wife” include an individual married to a person of the same sex if the individuals are lawfully married under state law, and the term “marriage” includes a marriage between individuals of the same sex.
  • A marriage of same-sex individuals that was validly entered into in a state whose laws authorize the marriage of two individuals of the same sex will be recognized for Federal tax law purposes even if the married couple is domiciled in a state that does not recognize the validity of same-sex marriages. For example, same-sex marriage is not recognized in Missouri. However, a same-sex couple that marries in Iowa but lives in Missouri will be considered married for Federal tax purposes because the marriage is valid in Iowa where the

Breaking – IRS Guidance on Same-Sex Marriage

Today the IRS release Revenue Ruling 2013-17 generally providing that same-sex marriages would be recognized for Federal tax purposes if they were recognized under the laws of the state in which the marriage occurred.  This has generally been referred to as the “place of celebration” rule.

In addition, the IRS released FAQs on both same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships and civil unions.  These FAQs provide additional guidance on some relevant issues for plan sponsors, including qualified retirement plans, the tax impacts of health coverage for same-sex spouses, and cafeteria plans.

We’ll provide additional analysis in future posts, so stay tuned!

Dealing with Overturn of DOMA – Immediate Steps

Dealing with Overturn of DOMA – Immediate Steps

July 3, 2013

Authored by: benefitsbclp

Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court last week in United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307.  This action has created more questions than answers for employers and administrators of ERISA plans.  Most of this uncertainty centers on the fact that the Supreme Court’s decision did not address Section 2 of DOMA, which provides that states do not have to give full faith and credit to the laws of another state which recognizes same-sex marriage.  However, for federal law purposes, the government will look to state law to determine whether someone is a spouse.  This creates uncertainty as to whether the state of residence of an employee or plan participant will dictate whether he or she is or has a spouse at the time a right arises or action is required.  We are hopeful that federal agencies will immediately issue guidance on this issue.  If a spousal benefit issue arises before then that involves these facts, additional consideration is recommended.

Same-sex marriages are permitted in California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota (effective August 1, 2013), New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island (effective August 1, 2013), Vermont and Washington (the Same-Sex Marriage States).  Employers and plan administrators with employees and participants in these states may have immediate issues to address.

To begin the process of unfolding the effect of the Windsor decision, we recommend the following steps:

COBRA and STD/FMLA – The Appeal

COBRA and STD/FMLA – The Appeal

August 9, 2012

Authored by: benefitsbclp

As we near the first anniversary of, it is a good time to reflect on the past, such as one of our first posts on the importance of clear eligibility terms in a self-funded health plan.  This is a particularly timely reflection because the case discussed on that post was just upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in an unpublished opinion.

For those unfamiliar, in the case, an employee who was participating in a self-funded medical plan went out on FMLA leave.  When that leave expired, she did not return to work and the employer put her on short-term disability, but continued to allow her to be eligible for the medical plan.  After her short-term disability period expired, the employer offered her COBRA, which she elected.

However, the terms of the medical plan provided that eligible employees were those regularly scheduled to work a minimum of 40 hours per week with an express exception only for FMLA leaves.  When the stop-loss carrier inquired about her eligibility, the employer said it had a “corporate practice” of continuing to allow employees on short-term disability to be covered under the plan.  The stop loss carrier, however, had only committed to provide its coverage for claims that were covered under the terms of the self-funded medical plan.  In arriving at its decision, the court narrowly construed the medical plan’s eligibility provisions.  (A few additional details are noted in the prior post.)

As we noted in our prior

IRS Updates COBRA Audit Guidelines

The IRS recently updated its audit guidelines for field agents conducting reviews of employers COBRA programs.

In these updated guidelines, the IRS has advised agents that any COBRA audit should consist of a review of the following minimum level of documentation: (i) the employers procedure manual; (ii) form letters; (iii) internal audit procedures; (iv) the underlying group health plan documents; and (v) details of any past or pending COBRA-related litigation. If any of the foregoing materials appear deficient or problematic, agents are advised to make follow-up inquiries relating to the number of qualifying events, the method of notifying qualified beneficiaries, the method of notifying the plan administrator in connection with qualifying events, qualified beneficiary elections and the amount of premiums paid by COBRA beneficiaries. In performing more comprehensive reviews, the IRS advises agents to request an employer’s federal and state employment tax returns; lists of individuals affected by qualifying events; and lists of individuals covered by each group health plan and to compare those lists against the employer’s personnel records.

In outlining these materials, the IRS appears to have the expectation that agents will be seeking to confirm that an employer is offering COBRA coverage under all of the group health plans that are legally required to offer COBRA coverage, that all participants terminating employment are being offered COBRA coverage; that those being offered COBRA coverage are being provided the opportunity to elect any and all appropriate coverages and that the cost of those coverages are in conformance

W-2 Reporting of Health Coverage and EAPs, Wellness Programs, and On-Site Clinics

On Tuesday, the IRS released additional interim guidance on the health reform requirement to include the cost of health coverage on an employee’s Form W-2.  Employers are permitted, but not required, to report these amounts on 2011 W-2s issued by the end of this month, but reporting will be required for 2012 W-2s issued in January 2013.

Of particular interest in the guidance is the following Q&A:

Q-32: Is the cost of coverage provided under an employee assistance program (EAP), wellness program, or on-site medical clinic required to be included in the aggregate reportable cost reported on Form W-2?

A-32: Coverage provided under an EAP, wellness program, or on-site medical clinic is only includible in the aggregate reportable cost to the extent that the coverage is provided under a program that is a group health plan for purposes of § 5000(b)(1). An employer is not required to include the cost of coverage provided under an EAP, wellness program, or on-site medical clinic that otherwise would be required to be included in the aggregate reportable cost reported on Form W-2 because it constitutes applicable employer-sponsored coverage, if that employer does not charge a premium with respect to that type of coverage provided to a beneficiary qualifying for coverage in accordance with any applicable federal continuation coverage requirements. If an employer charges a premium with respect to that type of coverage provided to a beneficiary qualifying for coverage in accordance with any applicable federal continuation coverage requirements,

New EBSA Consumer Assistance Website

New EBSA Consumer Assistance Website

November 23, 2011

Authored by: benefitsbclp

The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) is making it easier for consumers to submit questions and complaints regarding their health and retirement plans. EBSA has created a new consumer assistance website which allows users to submit inquiries electronically.  If you hablo Espanol, it’s also available in Spanish.

The DOL claims the new website provides easy access to useful information through links for resources/tools, hot topics, and publications. It also provides links to electronic forms where a user may “Ask a Question”, “Submit a Complaint”, or “Report a Problem.” EBSA seems to be serious about wanting to hear from consumers and give them assistance by promising to respond to all inquiries within three business days.

What does this mean for employers? The increased ease in which employees can submit complaints regarding their health and retirement plans to the DOL may lead in increased government scrutiny. Employers should now, more than ever, make it a point to respond to employee inquires quickly and adequately. If an employee is not satisfied with their employer’s response, they now have a quick means to complain to the government. Employers should also be sure to thoroughly document their responses to employee questions and complaints, including the rationale, just in case the DOL comes knocking.



September 1, 2011

Authored by: benefitsbclp

In Clarcor, Inc. v. Madison Nat’l Life Ins Co. (M.D. Tenn. 2011), the District court for the Middle District of Tennessee upheld a denial of stop-loss coverage by Madison National Life for expenses incurred by an employee who was put on short term disability following FMLA leave.  The employee went on FMLA leave and when that leave expired, she did not return to employment.  Instead, the employer put her on short-term disability. Following the expiration of short-term disability, her employment was terminated and she was offered COBRA.

However, under the eligibility provisions of the self-funded health plan, she was required to be either actively working, on FMLA or on COBRA.  Because she was not in any of those classes, she was ineligible. The employer had a policy providing for continued coverage while employees were on short-term disability, but the policy was not part of the formal plan document.  Therefore, the court said, the policy was not sufficient to establish her eligibility and the stop-loss carrier was correct in denying coverage for her medical expenses.

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