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Eleventh Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment Because ERISA Plan Included Unambiguous Reservation of Rights Language

In Klaas v. Allstate Ins. Co., Allstate sponsored an employee welfare benefit plan subject to ERISA that paid life insurance premiums for certain retirees. Allstate made various representations that this benefit would continue for the remaining lives of the retirees. In 2013, Allstate informed the retirees that it would stop paying their life insurance premiums. The retirees sued alleging Allstate violated ERISA by no longer paying those premiums after making representations that the benefit would continue for a lifetime. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling, holding that no ERISA violation occurred because Allstate’s plan documents contained a no-vesting clause and an unambiguous reservation of rights provision that gave Allstate the right to modify or terminate retiree life insurance at any time.  This case is a good reminder to pay careful attention to what insurers and third-party administers put into your plan documents. Unlike retirement plans subject to ERISA,… Continue Reading

Retirement Plan Death Beneficiary Provisions that Reduce Potential Liability

When a retirement plan participant dies without a valid beneficiary designation on file, death benefits will typically be paid pursuant to the plan’s default beneficiary provisions. These provisions should be drafted to avoid placing an undue burden on the plan administrator (which is often the plan sponsor). When the plan document requires the plan administrator to determine a participant’s heirs, the process of administering the death benefit can be costly and time-consuming and may lead to the risk that the plan will have to pay a duplicate benefit. For example, a duplicate payment could result because children from a previous marriage were overlooked, the participant remarried after terminating employment, or competing heirs provide incomplete or misleading information. However, plans can be drafted to provide that the default beneficiary is the participant’s surviving spouse, and if there is no spouse, the participant’s estate. If the estate is not probated, the risk should be shifted from… Continue Reading

As Plan Administrator, the Employer is Liable – Not the Service Provider (i.e., What Kind of Indemnification Are You Getting?)

The plan administrator of an employee benefit plan (employee welfare or retirement) has the general fiduciary responsibility under ERISA to ensure the operational and documentary compliance of the plan. Under ERISA, the sponsoring employer is the plan administrator unless another person or entity is named in the plan. This generally means the employer retains ultimate responsibility and liability for legal compliance even though the employer may rely heavily on the plan’s third-party service providers. One way to mitigate this liability is to obtain indemnification from a service provider for the service provider’s errors, for which the employer (as plan administrator) would still be legally liable. The default language in third-party service provider contracts often provides indemnification only for the service provider’s “gross negligence”, but not its “ordinary negligence”, thus leaving the employer responsible for correcting (and paying for) errors caused by the service provider that do not amount to “gross negligence” or “intentional… Continue Reading

DOL Rules that Audio Recordings and Transcripts of Telephone Conversations with Plan?ÇÖs Insurer may have to be Disclosed

The DOL recently issued Information Letter 06-14-2021 addressing whether the claims procedure regulations under ERISA require plan fiduciaries to provide, upon request, the audio recording and transcript of a telephone conversation between a claimant and a representative of the plan?ÇÖs insurer relating to an adverse benefit determination. The claims regulations under ERISA provide that a document, record, or other information is relevant to a claim for benefits, and therefore must be provided to a claimant upon request, if it (i) ?Ç£was submitted, considered, or generated in the course of making the benefit determination, without regard to whether such document, record, or other information was relied upon in making the benefit determination?Ç¥ or (ii) ?Ç£demonstrates compliance with the administrative processes and safeguards.?Ç¥ The DOL concluded that a recording or transcript of a conversation between a claimant and a plan?ÇÖs insurer would not be excluded from the ERISA disclosure requirements on the… Continue Reading

IRS Issues Additional Guidance Regarding COBRA Premium Subsidy

As we previously reported here, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (?Ç£ARPA?Ç¥) provides a 100% COBRA premium subsidy to any qualified beneficiary who is entitled to COBRA coverage due to an involuntary termination of employment or reduction in hours of employment. Employers will receive a tax credit for the cost of COBRA premiums for April 1 to September 30, 2021. The IRS recently issued FAQs addressing many issues related to the subsidy, including: (i) subsidy eligibility, (ii) what qualifies as a reduction in hours or an involuntary termination of employment, (iii) the type of coverage eligible for the subsidy, (iv) when the subsidy period begins and ends, (v) the extended election period, (vi) coordination with the extended deadlines due to the COVID national emergency (?Ç£Outbreak Period Extensions?Ç¥), (vii) payments to insurers, (viii) application to state continuation coverage, and (ix) calculation and claiming of the subsidy tax credit. One of… Continue Reading

Reminder: Employer Obligations Regarding Employee Life Insurance Coverage

In our prior blog post here, we discussed the case of Anastos v. IKEA Property, Inc., which highlighted the importance of an employer?ÇÖs understanding of how its group term life insurance coverage is impacted by changes in employment status, such as termination of employment, retirement, or a leave of absence. This understanding is necessary for the employer to correctly communicate to employees when life insurance coverage will end, when evidence of insurability will be required, and the requirements necessary to convert coverage. In Anastos, the employer drafted its retiree benefit plan to state that eligible retirees could continue life insurance and that, in most cases, coverage would be guaranteed with no medical certification required. When a retiree attempted to obtain this coverage, the employer admitted that its plan was misleading and that it could not obtain underwriting to provide that kind of life insurance continuation benefit. The retiree sued, and… Continue Reading

Reminder: A Release of Claims May Not Offer Blanket Protection Against Potential ERISA Claims

A recent federal district court case,?áAnastos v. IKEA Property, Inc., illustrates that a release agreement executed upon employment termination may not offer blanket protection for employers against potential future ERISA or other claims that arise after termination (and after the release agreement has been executed). In Anastos, an employee sued his former employer alleging the information provided to him about the employer?ÇÖs retiree life insurance program led him to believe that no medical certification would be required to continue his life insurance coverage post-retirement. After the employee retired, his employer informed him that life insurance coverage was not available post-termination under the employer-provided plan and that, instead, he would have to convert the coverage to a whole life insurance policy with MetLife. MetLife required a medical examination before it would issue the policy, and the employee would not be able to satisfy the medical examination requirement. The employer filed a… Continue Reading

Voluntary Correction Program Applications ?Çô Best Practices

The IRS recently issued a list of the top errors it finds in Voluntary Correction Program (?Ç£VCP?Ç¥) submissions, which is available here. The errors listed generally relate to issues associated with the submission of files in the correct PDF format, failing to pay the correct user fee, or the incorrect submission of the Form 8950. Filing a VCP application can be a useful method for plan sponsors to correct operational issues that have spanned numerous years or?á other issues for which self-correction is unavailable. Errors in the submission can delay resolution of the application or, in some cases, cause a rejection of the application. In addition to the common errors outlined by the IRS, plan sponsors should also use care to avoid the following additional common issues: Failure to Submit a Comprehensive Filing ?Çô If one operational error is found, plan sponsors should conduct a self-audit prior to filing a… Continue Reading

Big Increase in Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account Limit for 2021

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (?Ç£ARPA?Ç¥), which was enacted on March 11, 2021, temporarily increases the maximum amount that an employee is permitted to contribute to a dependent care flexible spending account (?Ç£FSA?Ç¥) from $5,000 to $10,500 (or from $2,500 to $5,250 for a married person filing a separate return) for the taxable year beginning in 2021. The increased dependent care FSA limit is an optional change that a plan sponsor may choose to incorporate into its dependent care program included under its cafeteria plan. This change, combined with the change under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (?Ç£CAA?Ç¥), which authorizes a cafeteria plan to permit participants to make prospective changes to their dependent care FSA contributions (see our prior blog post regarding the CAA here), allows participants to increase contributions to their dependent care FSAs in 2021. In order to implement the new dependent care FSA limit, the… Continue Reading

Required Minimum Distributions: A Tragedy in Three Acts

The SECURE Act and CARES Act made significant changes to required minimum distributions (?Ç£RMDs?Ç¥). What should you be doing to ensure your retirement plans are administered correctly? The first step is to understand your options. SECURE Act Shifts the Start Before the SECURE Act, RMDs had to begin by April 1st of the calendar year following the later of (i) the calendar year during which the participant retires or (ii) the calendar year in which the participant turns age 70??.?á Following the passage of the SECURE Act, the age cutoff in that rule changed from age 70?? to age 72, but only for individuals who turned age 70?? on or after January 1, 2020 (i.e., individuals born on or after July 1, 1949). In short, those terminated vested participants born before July 1, 1949 had to start their RMDs by April 1 of the year after turning 70??, while those… Continue Reading

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