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Plan Investments

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act – Modified Rules for UBTI

For many years tax exempt organizations and retirement plan trusts have been permitted to avoid tax on income generated by unrelated trades or businesses they hold by netting the gains, losses, and deductions among those trades or businesses.  The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act modifies those rules, increasing the likelihood that such entities must report, and pay tax on, UBTI.

DOL Proposes 60-Day Delay for Fiduciary Rule

After nearly a month of regulatory machinations and behind-the-scenes lobbying, the Department of Labor has released a proposed rule that would delay the “applicability date” of its recently enacted “conflict of interest” (or “fiduciary”) regulation (the “Fiduciary Rule”). The 60-day delay in the applicability of the Fiduciary Rule would have only an indirect effect on employers, but is of great interest to investment advisors and other service providers.

Trump Orders DOL to “Reconsider” Fiduciary Rule

On Friday, February, 3, 2017, President Trump issued a Memorandum directing the Secretary of Labor to “re-examine” the Department of Labor’s final regulation defining “fiduciary” investment advice (sometimes referred to as the “Fiduciary Rule” or the “Conflict of Interest Rule”), and to consider whether the Rule should be revised or rescinded. The Rule, which significantly expands the circumstances under which an individual becomes a “fiduciary” by reason of providing investment advice for a fee, was finalized in April of 2016, and technically became effective last July, but was drafted such that its provisions generally do not become “applicable” to financial advisers until April 10, 2017.

DOL Releases Final Regulation Defining Investment Fiduciaries

After years of effort, the Department of Labor released final rules on April 6, 2016, that will substantially alter the way investment advice is provided to ERISA plans, their participants, and even non-ERISA IRAs.

It’s Unanimous: The Fiduciary Duty to Monitor Has Teeth

The United States Supreme Court gave considerable comfort to defined contribution plan participants – and their lawyers – who sue plan fiduciaries for failing to keep track of plan investment options. In a unanimous decision handed down on May 18, 2015, the Court held in Tibble v. Edison International that ERISA fiduciaries have a “continuing duty” to monitor investment options, and that plan participants have six years from the date of an alleged violation of that duty to file a lawsuit against the plan’s fiduciaries. This ruling significantly undercuts the utility of a statute of limitations defense that had been successfully deployed by plan fiduciaries in previous cases, and creates fertile ground for more litigation.

Murder Victim’s Mother May Rely on Post-Amara Equitable Remedies

In McCravy v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, an ERISA plan continued to accept life-insurance premiums for a participant’s dependent daughter after the daughter was too old to be covered as a dependent.   But when the daughter died, the insurer denied the plaintiff’s claim.  Citing the Supreme Court’s 2011 decision in CIGNA Corp. v. Amara, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the “other equitable relief” available to the plaintiff under Section 502(a)(3) of ERISA should include a monetary recovery equal to the amount that would have been due under the terms of a plan, had the daughter satisfied the plan’s definition of dependent child at the time of her death.  In so doing, the Fourth Circuit became the first federal appellate court to reverse its own pre-Amara rejection of such a remedy under Section 502(a)(3).

As Fee Disclosure Deadlines Approach, DOL Issues Additional Guidance

After more than four years of regulatory starts and stops, plus the threat of a legislative solution, two separate sets of fee disclosure regulations issued by the Department of Labor (“DOL”) will finally become effective this summer.  Covered service providers must provide certain compensation and fee information to plan fiduciaries by July 1, and fiduciaries of participant-directed plans must provide participants with certain plan expense and investment fee information by August 30.  As those deadlines approach, the DOL has just issued additional guidance (in the form of Field Assistance Bulletin 2012-02) on the participant fee disclosure rules, and has indicated that it plans to issue similar guidance regarding the service provider fee disclosure requirements in the very near future.

THE FIDUCIARY CORNER: Costly Fiduciary Breaches in 401(k) Fee Case Provide Many Lessons

The recent decision in Tussey v. ABB, Inc. provides many lessons for 401(k) plan fiduciaries.  One such lesson is to avoid having an overly rigid investment policy statement.  Failing to follow the protocol outlined in a plan’s IPS for replacing an underperforming investment option led the Tussey court to tag the plan’s fiduciaries with substantial liability for the participants’ lost earnings.

Investment Providers and Advisors May Now Provide “Conflicted” Advice to Plan Participants

Both the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) and the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”) generally prohibit fiduciary investment advisers from receiving compensation from the investment vehicles that they recommend to plan participants and IRA holders. However, the Pension Protection Act of 2006 amended ERISA to create a new statutory exemption from the prohibited transaction rules that is designed to expand the availability of fiduciary investment advice to participants in individual account plans and IRAs, subject to specific safeguards and conditions.

Employer Stock Funds Continue to Vex 401(k) Fiduciaries

Offering employees the opportunity to invest in the stock of their employer through a tax-favored vehicle like a Code Section 401(k) plan or employee stock ownership plan (“ESOP”) must have seemed like an innocuous idea at one time. Indeed, Congress expressed its approval of such arrangements by creating special tax benefits for both the sponsors of such plans (in the form additional deductions) and participants in them (in the form of favorable tax treatment on unrealized appreciation in the value of employer stock). Yet these “employer stock funds” are now the quickest path to the courthouse for employers that sponsor them and fiduciaries that administer them.

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