Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court, in United States v. Windsor, ruled that Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. As you may recall, DOMA Section 3 states, “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”
By holding Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, qualified retirement plans must now treat the relationship of same‐gender married couples as a marriage in order to maintain the plans’ tax‐qualified status. The term “spouse” includes an individual married to a person of the same-gender if the individuals are lawfully married under state or foreign law.
The IRS recognizes a valid same-gender marriage even if the married couple is living in a state that does not recognize same-gender marriages. The term “spouse” doesn’t include individuals who have entered into a registered domestic partnership, civil union, or other similar relationship that is not defined as marriage.
Important DOMA Information for Plan Sponsors
- Participants (and their spouses) who are in same-gender marriages generally must be treated as married for all purposes under a retirement plan. This was effective as of June 26, 2013.
- As of September 16, 2013, your plan must recognize same-gender marriages that were lawfully performed under the laws of the 50 states, D.C., U.S. territory or a foreign jurisdiction.
- States that currently recognize same-gender marriages include: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois (law will take effect on June 1, 2014), Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
- Depending on whose retirement plan provider plan document you use, you may want to contact the provider to ensure that your retirement plan complies with these new rules. In general, amendments to such plans are due by the end of the plan’s remedial amendment period, or December 31, 2014.
- As a plan sponsor, you have no obligation to notify current or former participants of the new rules.
- All qualified plans must recognize same-gender marriages for all plan purposes. This would include provisions applicable to beneficiary designation, death benefits, applicable spousal consent requirements regarding distributions and loans, rollovers, etc.
Retirement Plan Help
Now is the perfect time to update beneficiary forms for all participants in your plan. It’s important you keep a current copy of each participant’s beneficiary form in his or her personnel file. If you need assistance with this, contact Rea & Associates. Our Ohio benefit plan services team can help you determine what you need to do to keep in compliance with IRS and DOL regulations.
Author: Andrea McLane, QKA (Dublin office)
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