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New Plan Audit Standards Shift Burdens to Plan Fiduciaries

In an effort to address shortcomings in auditing procedures and reporting raised by the DOL, in July 2019, the Auditing Standards Board of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants issued a revised Statement on Auditing Standards No. 136 entitled, “Forming an Opinion and Reporting on Financial Statements of Employee Benefit Plans Subject to ERISA” (“SAS 136”). SAS 136 applies to plan financial statement periods ending on or after December 15, 2021. The updated audit standards imposed by SAS 136 add new audit procedures and significantly shift the burden for producing many plan-related documents to the plan sponsor. The new requirements will make it essential for plan sponsors to be able to produce quality, error-free records that demonstrate compliance in areas like compensation, deferrals, distributions, and vendors’ fees. Even before these new standards went into effect, it was often difficult for plan sponsors to produce such documentation, particularly when it… Continue Reading

Elective Deferral Election Records – Plan Sponsors Proceed With Caution

In a time when most employees make their 401(k) plan elective deferral elections electronically, plan sponsors often do not think twice about maintaining records of employee deferral elections, since they expect their third party administrators (“TPAs”) will retain such electronic records. However, this confidence in the TPA’s records can be a trap for the unwary, as mistakes in the transmission of elections from the TPA to the employer’s payroll can easily occur, and the elections for long-standing employees may have been entered manually based on paper election forms that could have long since been misplaced (or destroyed in accordance with a TPA’s record retention policies). Further, if the plan sponsor has changed TPAs, the current TPA’s records for participants prior to the conversion are based on the records of the prior TPA and may no longer be accessible following conversion to the new TPA.  A lack of reliable records can… 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

New COBRA Subsidy Guidance Addresses Outstanding Issues

The IRS recently issued Notice 2021-46 (the “Notice”), which provides new guidance in the form of FAQs regarding the application of the COBRA premium assistance provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (the “COBRA Subsidy”). The Notice supplements the IRS’s prior Notice 2021-31 regarding the COBRA Subsidy and addresses additional matters. Issues addressed in the Notice include, among others, (i) the availability of the COBRA Subsidy in situations where an individual is entitled to notify the plan administrator, but has not yet done so, of his or her eligibility for an extended COBRA coverage period due to a disability determination or the occurrence of a second COBRA qualifying event, (ii) the loss of an individual’s entitlement to the COBRA Subsidy with respect to dental and vision coverage when he or she becomes eligible to enroll in other group health plan coverage or Medicare that does not provide dental… Continue Reading

New Required COBRA Premium Subsidy

Beginning on April 1, 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA“) will provide a 100% COBRA premium subsidy (the ?Ç£Subsidy?Ç¥) to any qualified beneficiary who is entitled to COBRA coverage due to an involuntary termination of employment or reduction in hours of employment. Under the ARPA, the federal government will reimburse the employer, in the form of a tax credit, the cost of the premiums for up to six months, from April 1 to September 30, 2021. Specifically, the Subsidy will end on the earliest of: (i) September 30, 2021; (ii) the date the qualified beneficiary becomes eligible for other health plan coverage or Medicare; or (iii) the date the qualified beneficiary?ÇÖs COBRA coverage period ends. Further, any individual who would have been eligible for the Subsidy, had he or she previously elected, or continued, COBRA coverage, will have another opportunity to elect COBRA coverage under a special… Continue Reading

BREAKING: One-Year Limit on Suspended COBRA and Other Deadlines Applies On An Individual Basis

The DOL issued guidance today stating that the one-year limit on the suspension of COBRA, special enrollment, and claims deadlines during the COVID-19 outbreak period applies on an individual basis.?á This means those deadlines do not resume running as of March 1, 2021.?á Instead, each individual has up to a one-year suspension as long as the COVID-19 national emergency continues.?á As discussed in our prior blog post here, it was unclear whether those deadlines were to resume running as of March 1, 2021.?á Employers should contact their service providers to ensure they are aware of this new guidance and to issue new participant communications as needed. Notice 2021-01 is available here.

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

Regulations Provide for More Cost Transparency in Health Coverage

The federal Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury (collectively, the ?Ç£Departments?Ç¥) have jointly issued final regulations that are intended to provide for more transparency in health coverage (the ?Ç£Regulations?Ç¥). The Regulations have important implications for employer sponsors of certain group health plans (?Ç£Plans?Ç¥) and health insurers. The Regulations do not apply to health plans that are grandfathered under the Affordable Care Act, health reimbursement arrangements, certain other account-based group health plans, or short-term limited duration insurance. The Regulations require two key forms of disclosures (collectively, the ?Ç£Disclosures?Ç¥) in order to provide for this improved transparency: Self-Service Disclosure. First, the Regulations require Plans and insurers in the individual and group markets to disclose certain cost-sharing information upon request to a participant, beneficiary, or enrollee (or his or her authorized representative), including (a) an estimate of the individual?ÇÖs cost-sharing liability for covered items or services furnished by a… Continue Reading

Federal Tax Withholding and Reporting Requirements for Distributions from a Qualified Retirement Plan to a State?ÇÖs Unclaimed Property Fund

Third party administrators for employer-sponsored qualified retirement plans often recommend to employers that unclaimed account balances for mandatory cash-outs of small amounts (under $1,000) be remitted to the unclaimed property fund for the participant?ÇÖs state of residence. The IRS recently clarified in Rev. Rul. 2020-24 that amounts remitted to a state?ÇÖs unclaimed property fund are subject to withholding under Section 3405 of the Internal Revenue Code (the ?Ç£Code?Ç¥) and, in the event the amounts distributed exceed $10, reporting under Section 6047 of the Code. A plan sponsor will not be treated as failing to comply with the withholding and reporting requirements with respect to payments made before the earlier of January 1, 2022 or the date it becomes reasonably practicable for the plan sponsor to comply with such requirements. An employer that sponsors a qualified retirement plan should discuss this guidance with their plan?ÇÖs third-party administrator to ensure that any… Continue Reading

Delegating Fiduciary Duties Under ERISA Plans

The recent decision in Hampton v. National Union by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois highlights the importance of following the provisions in ERISA plan documents for delegating fiduciary duties to entities acting as plan fiduciaries, such as third-party service providers and insurers. Following the death of her husband, who was an employee of The Boeing Company (?Ç£Boeing?Ç¥), the plaintiff sought to recover accidental death and dismemberment benefits under insurance policies sponsored by Boeing, for which she was the sole designated beneficiary. After National Union, which underwrote and co-administered the policies with AIG Claims, Inc., denied the plaintiff?ÇÖs initial benefits claim, as well as her appeal of such denial, the plaintiff brought suit under ERISA. The plaintiff argued that the court should apply a de novo standard of review (i.e., no deference given to the plan fiduciary?ÇÖs prior decisions) because National Union did not have discretionary… Continue Reading

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