On July 1, the Treasury Department released the long-awaited final regulations for qualifying longevity annuity contracts (QLACs). These new annuities will offer advisors a unique tool to help clients avoid outliving their money.
The QLAC rules, however, are a complicated mash-up of IRA and annuity rules, and clients may need substantial help in understanding their key provisions. To help advisors break down the most important aspects of QLACs, below are 5 critical QLAC questions and their answers.
1) Question: What are QLACs?
Answer: QLACs, or qualifying longevity annuity contracts, are a new type of fixed longevity annuity that is held in a retirement account and has special tax attributes. Although the value of a QLAC is excluded from a client’s RMD calculation, distributions from QLAC don’t have to begin until a client reaches age 85, well beyond the age at which RMDs normally begin.
2) Question: Why did the Treasury Department create QLACs?
Answer: Prior to the establishment of QLACs, there were significant challenges to purchasing longevity annuities with IRA money. The rules required that unless an annuity held within an IRA had been annuitized, its fair market value needed to be included in the prior year’s year-end balance when calculating a client’s IRA RMD. This left clients with non-annuitized IRA annuities with an inconvenient choice to make after reaching the age at which RMDs begin. At that time, they needed to either:
1) Begin taking distributions from their non-annuitized IRA annuities, reducing their potential future benefit, or
2) Annuitize their annuities, which would obviously produce a lower income stream than if they were annuitized at a more advanced age, or
3) “Make-up” the non-annuitized annuity’s RMD from other IRA assets, drawing down those assets at an accelerated rate.
None of these options was particularly attractive and now, thanks to QLACs, clients will no longer be forced to make such decisions.
3) Question: How much money can a client invest in a QLAC?
Answer: The final regulations limit the amount of money a client can invest in a QLAC in two ways: a percentage limit; and an overall limit. First, a client may not invest more than 25 percent of retirement account funds in a QLAC.
For IRAs, the 25 percent limit is based on the total fair market of all non-Roth IRAs, including SEP and SIMPLE IRAs, as of December 31st of the year prior to the year the QLAC is purchased. The fair market value of a QLAC held in an IRA will also be included in that total, even though it won’t be for RMD purposes.
The 25 percent limit is applied in a slightly different manner to 401(k)s and similar plans. For starters, the 25 percent limit is applied separately to each plan balance. In addition, instead of applying the 25 percent limit to the prior year-end balance of the plan, the 25 percent limit is applied to the balance on the last valuation date.
In addition, that balance is further adjusted by adding in contributions made between the last valuation and the time the QLAC premium is made, and by subtracting from that balance distributions made during the same time frame.
In addition to the 25 percent limits described above, there is also a $125,000 limit on total QLAC purchases by a client. When looked at in concert with the 25 percent limit, the $125,000 limit becomes a “lesser of” rule. In other words, a client can invest no more than the lesser of 25 percent of retirement funds or $125,000 in QLACs.
4) Question: What death benefit options can a QLAC offer?
Answer: A QLAC may offer a return of premium death benefit option, whether or not a client has begun to receive distributions. Any QLAC offering a return of premium death benefit must pay that amount in a single, lump-sum, to the QLAC beneficiary by December 31st of the year following the year of death.
Such a feature is available for both spouse and non-spouse beneficiaries. In addition, the final regulations allow this feature to be added regardless of whether the QLAC is payable over the life of the QLAC owner only, or whether the QLAC will be payable over the joint lives of the QLAC owner and their spouse.
QLACs may also offer life annuity death benefit options. In general, a spousal QLAC beneficiary can receive a life annuity with payments equal to or less than what a deceased spouse was receiving or would have received if the latter died prior to receiving benefits under the contract. An exception to this rule is available, however, to satisfy ERISA preretirement survivor annuity rules. If the QLAC beneficiary is a non-spouse, the rules are more complicated. First, clients must choose between two options, one in which there is no guarantee a non-spouse beneficiary will receive anything; but if payments are received, they will generally be higher than the second option.
The second option is a choice that will guarantee payments to a non-spouse beneficiary, but those payments will be comparatively smaller than if payments were received by a non-spouse beneficiary under the first option. Put in simplest terms, a non-spouse beneficiary receiving a life annuity death benefit will generally fare better with the first option if the QLAC owner dies after beginning to receive benefits whereas, if the QLAC owner dies before beginning to receive benefits, they will generally fare better with the second method.
5) Question: Are QLACs available now
Answer: Yes…and no. Quite simply, the QLAC regulations are in effect already, but that doesn’t mean that insurance carriers already have products that conform to the new IRS specifications. To the best of my knowledge, and as of this writing, QLACs exist in theory only.
It’s likely, however, that in the not too distant future, QLACs will go from tax code theory to client reality. Exactly which carriers will offer them and exactly which features those carriers will choose to incorporate into their products remains to be seen.
But make no mistake: QLACs are coming (or here, depending on your point of view). If such products may make sense for clients, it probably makes sense to reach out to them now and begin the discussion.
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