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Allison Wilkerson focuses her practice on employee benefits matters. She has extensive experience handling issues pertaining to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs). Read Allison Wilkerson's full bio.

Mary Samsa and Allison Wilkerson discussed that the majority of ERISA disclosures are in fact employee communications – many of which are viewed as “routine” by employers.  As such, plan sponsors are continually balancing the best way in which to relay complex benefit plan information in a manner to best be understood by employees but equally satisfy the applicable regimented disclosure requirements. Some key takeaways from their presentation included not only the compliance and content requirements, but methods for delivering communications to employees, traps for the unwary (i.e., inconsistent information communicated, the advantage of having these communications reviewed by legal counsel, and oversight of third parties who assist in preparing communications) and some common sense approaches for routine reviews of communications and continuing education to participants so that periodic communications are not always monumental tasks.

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Since the announcement by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that sponsors of individually designed retirement plans may no longer receive a periodic determination letter, plan sponsors have faced uncertainty about how to demonstrate compliance for their retirement plans. Our McDermott Retirement Plan Compliance Program, a new opinion letter and operational review program for individually designed 401(a) and 403(b) retirement plans, will allow plan sponsors to document their plans’ compliance with tax code requirements in response to the curtailment of the IRS’ determination letter program.

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The Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor relaxed some deadlines for eligible employee benefit plans and expanded the availability of withdrawals and loans for eligible defined contribution plan participants in the disaster area. However, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation announced that some of its required filings will not be extended automatically.

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Andrew Liazos and Allison Wilkerson wrote this bylined article on Tax Code Section 409A’s deferral and payment requirements for nonqualified deferred com­pensation plans. Recent IRS Section 409A guidance makes “several helpful changes that employers will want to consider and take advantage of,” the authors wrote, and they warned employers that they ignore final IRS “at their peril…in light of the more limited ability to correct errors.”

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Originally published in The Practical Tax Lawyer, Spring 2017

Over the years, employee stock ownership plans (ESOP) have evolved in many ways. Currently, ESOP transactions began to resemble traditional M&A transactions including financial structures, warrants and market rate sub-debt. In a recent presentation at the NCEO Employee Ownership Conference, Allison Wilkerson discusses current marketplace trends in structuring ESOP transactions, including the importance of pre-transaction structure analysis and post-transaction planning. Allison also goes over the beneficial tax planning opportunities associated with ESOP transactions.

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On June 22, 2016, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued proposed regulations to modify and clarify existing regulations under Section 409A of the Internal Revenue Code. The proposed changes were in response to practitioner comments and the IRS’s experience with Section 409A after the issuance of the final regulations in 2007. Overall, the proposed modifications are favorable to taxpayers and provide some planning opportunities. Plan sponsors have more flexibility to exempt arrangements from Section 409A and vary payment schedules under special circumstances. The IRS also made certain technical corrections to the existing regulations and warned taxpayers about certain practices that it considers to currently violate Section 409A. This article reviews the proposed changes, discusses available planning opportunities offered to employers, and addresses issues raised by the proposed regulations.

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Though the Supreme Court’s 2014 unanimous ruling in Fifth Third Bank v. Dudenhoeffer announced the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) standards for stock valuation in the context of a large public employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), the vast majority of ESOPs are still grappling with valuation issues. ESOPs that hold stock of closely-held corporations—approximately 90% of all ESOPs— remain almost unaffected by Dudenhoeffer’s valuation discussions, and face continued scrutiny by the Department of Labor (DOL). Appraisal of closely-held stock is an inexact science that involves an inherent level of uncertainty in assessing a variety of potential fact patterns.

This article summarizes valuation issues in acquisitions of closely-held corporation stock by ESOPs in the context of Perez v. Bruister, a recently decided Fifth Circuit case. The case stressed the importance of ‘‘process’’ in valuation determinations being utilized for acquisitions of a corporation’s stock by an ESOP. In reviewing the case, this article provides a detail of the process that should be followed to ensure consideration of the appropriate factors by fiduciaries in reviewing valuations for ESOP transactions. The article concludes with a discussion of guidance provided by the court in Bruister that may be instructive as to best practices for ESOP fiduciaries charged with establishing the value to be used by an ESOP holding shares of stock of a private company.

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On December 4, 2015, President Obama signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act). In addition to authorizing $305 billion in funding for federal highway projects, the FAST Act also repeals the recently enacted extension to the Form 5500 filing deadline included in the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act (Surface Transportation Act).

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