Private Pensions:

IRS Efforts Underway to Improve Spousal Consent Forms

HRD-92-31: Published: Dec 20, 1991. Publicly Released: Dec 20, 1991.

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Jane L. Ross
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) efforts to improve spousal consent forms for private pension plans.

GAO found that: (1) although IRS developed two information booklets to inform spouses about survivors benefits, there was no assurance that spouses would be informed of their rights under the Retirement Equity Act, since individuals must obtain the booklets themselves and IRS did not require employers to include pertinent information on spousal consent forms or develop nontechnical language examples; and (2) IRS has initiated two projects aimed at developing language examples and changing its regulations to require employers to include such information as the survivor benefit's estimated dollar amount and the consequences of waiving the benefit on spousal consent forms. GAO believes that, to further assist spouses in making informed survivor benefit decisions, the consent forms should also disclose: (1) that a spouse's decision to waive the survivor benefit is voluntary; and (2) whether a spouse has a right to revoke an earlier decision to waive the annuity.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS issued two information pamphlets called "Looking Out for Number Two" that addressed the recommendations. In addition, in January 1997, IRS published Notice 97-10, which provides sample language in the area of spousal consent forms. The sample forms include a discussion of the spouse's right not to sign the waiver, making it clear that if the spouse does not sign the waiver, the retiree will receive the benefits in the form of a Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity. The sample forms also include alternative discussions of whether the waiver is irrevocable and the impact on the spouse of this feature so a plan administrator may select the language appropriate for the particular plan.

    Recommendation: To better help spouses to make well-informed decisions, the Internal Revenue Service should disclose: (1) that the spouse's decision to waive the J&S annuity is voluntary; and (2) whether the specific plan permits revocation of the decision to waive the J&S annuity.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service


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