IRS permits lump-sum window option for pension annuitants pending further study

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has suspended its four-year regulatory project that was expected to limit a defined benefit (DB) retirement plan’s ability to offer retirees and beneficiaries a short-term opportunity for lump sums in lieu of annuities. Notice 2019-18, released on March 6, states the agency no longer intends to amend the required minimum distribution rules to prohibit lump-sum windows to current annuitants in a DB plan. The IRS, however, notes it will continue to study the issue of retiree lump-sum windows.

The IRS notice supersedes Notice 2015-49 (see Client Action Bulletin 15-8).

Until the IRS issues further guidance, the agency will not assert that a plan amendment providing for a retiree lump-sum window program results in a violation of the minimum distribution rules, but will continue to evaluate whether the plan, as amended, satisfies the other requirements (e.g., nondiscrimination, vesting, maximum benefit limits) of the tax code.

The IRS also will not issue private letter rulings on this matter. However, if a taxpayer is eligible to apply for and receive a determination letter, the IRS will no longer include a caveat expressing “no opinion” regarding the tax consequences of a pension plan document that includes such a window.

Although certain plan sponsors—such as those pursuing means to curtail their DB plan liabilities and obligations through “de-risking” strategies or those considering terminating frozen plans—might find the notice of particular interest, they also should review non-tax considerations for possible implications. In particular, fiduciary responsibilities under ERISA should be contemplated, as well as potential exposure to ERISA-based litigation.

For additional information about the impact of IRS Notice 2019-18 on your DB plan or to discuss lump-sum window options and plan amendments to adopt such changes, please contact your Milliman consultant.

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