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Glossary - Terms - Definitions

Terms and Definitions

401(k) Plan is a defined contribution plan where an employee can make contributions from his or her paycheck either before or after-tax, depending on the options offered in the plan. The contributions go into a 401(k) account, with the employee often choosing the investments based on options provided under the plan. In some plans, the employer also makes contributions such as matching the employee’s contributions up to a certain percentage. SIMPLE and safe harbor 401(k) plans have mandatory employer contributions.

403(b) Tax-Sheltered Annuity (TSA) Plan is a retirement plan offered by public schools and certain tax-exempt organizations. An individual’s 403(b) annuity can be obtained only under an employer’s TSA plan. Generally, these annuities are funded by elective deferrals made under salary reduction agreements and nonelective employer contributions.                                                                               

Accrued Benefit
The is generally expressed as a monthly accrued benefit. Such form of benefit is limited to Qualified Defined Benefit Plans. It is expressed a an accumulation to a specific date and payable at a specific date. For example William's monthly accrued benefit as of August 31, 2006 was $800.00. Assuming no further service this benefit will be payable upon William's attaining his normal retirement age.

Actuarial Equivalent
As used in pensions this term relates to forms of an employee's benefit. It compares different forms of benefit payments and determines if they are mathematically equal or nearly equal. For example, a monthly Single Life Annuity of $800.00 could be the actuarial equivalence of a Single Lump Sum of $250,000.00. This means they both have a dollar value of $250,000.00.

Approved Domestic Relations Order. This term is used by some state and municipal retirement systems that prefer ADRO to the term QDRO.

Alternate Payee
Any spouse, former spouse, child or other dependents of a plan participant who is recognized by a domestic relations order as having a right to receive all, or a portion of, the benefits payable under a plan with respect to such plan participant.

Annual additions are the total of all employer contributions, employee contributions (not including rollovers), and forfeitures allocated to a participant's account in a year.

Annuity – A series of payments under a contract that are made at regular intervals and over a period of more than one year.

Annuity Options
The forms in which retirement benefits may be paid to a retiring employee. Among the options are: Single Life Annuity, Periodic Payments for a stated period or a Joint & Survivor Annuity.

Ante-Nuptial Agreement
An agreement that delineates the pre-martial property of the respective parties to the agreement who are about to marry. It is a device to limit the rights of a spouse to property that was accumulated prior to the marriage.

Boyett  A significant Florida Supreme Court decision. This decision discusses the formulas that may be used to divided pension benefits upon divorce.

Cash Balance Plan – A type of defined benefit plan that includes some elements that are similar to a defined contribution plan because the benefit amount is computed based on a formula using contribution and earning credits, and each participant has a hypothetical account. Cash balance plans are more likely than traditional defined benefit plans to make lump sum distributions.

Civil Service Retirement
This is the Federal Civil Service Retirement System. It has two components: CSRS and FERS. See both definitions below.

For pension purposes this is a post-retirement Cost of Living Increase to a retired person's pension. Generally these increases are based on the September to September changes in the Consumer Price Index as prepared by the Department of Labor. In virtually all plans these COLA increases are compounding. If you are reading this as an Alternate Payee, be sure to insert a COLA increase provision into your Property Settlement Agreement.

Collective Bargaining Agreement
A union negotiated agreement. This can be for a union and a single employer or a multi-employer group.

Community Property
For property acquired during the marriage there is a presumptive basis that this is joint property.

Coverture Fraction

A pension division formula created in 1983 by William M. Troyan. The basic Coverture Fraction applies to a Defined Benefit Plan and is structured as follows:

Step I

The plan's administrator computes the benefit as of the employee's actual retirement date.

Step II

The monthly accrued benefit computed at Step I is multiplied by a fraction:
Numerator: total period of time the parties were married and the employee was accruing a benefit under this plan up to your jurisdiction's end of marriage date.
Denominator: the employees total period of benefit accrual up to his or her actual retirement date.

The product of this calculation is the marital/community property part of the pension.

Step III

Multiply the product of the Step II calculation by the agreed share of the Former Spouse (frequently 50%).

The product of this Step is the marital/community property benefit to be paid to the Former Spouse (Alternate Payee).

For Example:

Let Step I equal a monthly accrued benefit of $800.00

Let the Step II numerator equal 15
Let the Step II denominator equal 27
So 15 divided by 27 equals 55.5%

So the marital/community property part of the pension is
$800.00 multiplied by 55.5%. That equals a monthly benefit of $444.00

For Step III assume the Wife is to receive 50% of the marital/community property part of the pension. So:
$444.00 multiplied by 50% equals $222.00.

Thus the Coverture Fraction gave the Wife a monthly benefit of $222.00.

Deferred Compensation
Any form of compensation other than the direct wage or salary of the employee.

Deferred Distribution Settlement
A form of settlement that requires a Domestic Relations Order. The Alternate Payee must generally wait until the actual retirement of the employee to collect his or her pension benefit. It is possible for an Alternate Payee to begin collecting a benefit at the employee's Earliest Retirement Age. Alternate Payee's are strongly cautioned against beginning to collect prior to the earlier of the employee's normal retirement age or actual retirement. Reason: Under the federal pension a substantial actuarial reduction will be imposed on the Alternate Payee's pension benefit.

Defined Benefit Plan, also known as a traditional pension plan, promises the participant a specified monthly benefit at retirement. Often, the benefit is based on factors such as the participant’s salary, age and the number of years he or she worked for the employer. The plan may state this promised benefit as an exact dollar amount, such as $100 per month at retirement. Or, more commonly, it may calculate a benefit through a plan formula that considers such factors as salary and service.

Defined Contribution Plan is a retirement plan in which the employee and/or the employer contribute to the employee’s individual account under the plan. The amount in the account at distribution includes the contributions and investment gains or losses, minus any investment and administrative fees. Generally, the contributions and earnings are not taxed until distribution. The value of the account will change based on contributions and the value and performance of the investments. Examples of defined contribution plans include 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, employee stock ownership plans and profit-sharing plans.

An inability to perform the services for which one was hired. The duration may be temporary or permanent. To qualify for a disability pension the employee must meet the written criteria established by the plan.

Division of Retirement Benefits
Retirement benefits are considered marital/community property. Upon divorce, this asset will be divided between the parties incident to a Property Settlement Agreement or imposed by a court as a result of a trial. In all states other than Florida and Texas, some form of the Coverture Fraction (Time Rule) discussed above is used to determine the respective shares of the parties.

The legal and formal termination of marriage.

Domestic Relations Order
As used herein it is a written instrument delineating the marital/community property interest of an Alternate Payee in the pension benefits of the employee. This Order is without effect until it is executed by a court and then "Qualified" by a plan administrator.

Early Retirement
A participant's earliest retirement age is specified in the Plan document. There is no federal law mandating that a Defined Benefit Plan contain an early retirement provision. Nevertheless, the majority of these plans permit retirement prior to normal retirement age (defined below).

Elective Deferrals are amounts contributed to a plan by the employer at the employee's election and which, except to the extent they are designated Roth contributions, are excludable from the employee's gross income. Elective deferrals include deferrals under a 401(k), 403(b), SARSEP and SIMPLE IRA plan.

Employee Welfare Plans
employee welfare benefit plan'' and ``welfare plan'' have the same meaning. These plans include: plans providing medical, surgical, or hospital care or benefits, or benefits in the event of sickness, accident, disability, death or unemployment, or vacation benefits, apprenticeship or other training programs, or day care centers, scholarship funds, or prepaid legal services

End of Marriage Date
Each state (jurisdiction) has a time beyond which the assets of the parties are treated as separate property rather than marital/community property. In some states this is called: Date of Filing, Date of Complaint, Date of Service of Summons, Date of Separation.

Equitable Distribution
First, understand that Equitable Distribution need not mean "equal" distribution of assets. "Equitable" is a subjective term subject to the facts and circumstances of each case.

Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is a federal law that sets standards of protection for individuals in most voluntarily established, private-sector retirement plans. ERISA requires plans to provide participants with plan information, including important facts about plan features and funding; sets minimum standards for participation, vesting, benefit accrual and funding; provides fiduciary responsibilities for those who manage and control plan assets; requires plans to establish a claims and appeals process for participants to get benefits from their plans; gives participants the right to sue for benefits and breaches of fiduciary duty; and, if a defined benefit plan is terminated, guarantees payment of certain benefits through a federally chartered corporation, known as the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) is a type of defined contribution plan that is invested primarily in employer stock.

Employer is generally any person for whom an individual performs or did perform any service, of whatever nature, as an employee. A sole proprietor is treated as his or her own employer for retirement plan purposes. However, a partner is not an employer for retirement plan purposes. Instead, the partnership is treated as the employer of each partner.

Excess Benefit Plan
A Non-Qualified Plan that provides an executive with a pension in excess of the limits permitted for general employees.

Former Spouse
For federal and military plans use this term in place of "Alternate Payee".

Former Spouse Survivor Annuities
Under both Federal Civil Service plans this is a survivor annuity for the exclusive benefit of the prior spouse. It can be as little as $1.00 per month or to a maximum of 55% of the employee's total retirement allowance.

Frozen Plan
A plan that is no longer accumulating benefits. However, the assets of this plan have not been distributed.

Government Pension Offset - The Government Pension Offset (GPO) adjusts Social Security spousal or widow(er) benefits for people who receive “non-covered pensions.” A non-covered pension is a pension paid by an employer that does not withhold Social Security taxes from your salary, typically, state and local governments or non-U.S. employers.

Congress created the GPO in 1977 to help ensure that spousal and widow(er) benefits of those with covered or non-covered lifetime earnings would be roughly equal. a Under Social Security's dual-entitlement rule, spouses with their own covered earnings have their spousal benefits offset dollar-for-dollar by their own earned benefit. The GPO has a similar intention; the offset originally was dollar-for-dollar for non-covered pensions, but Congress reduced it to two-thirds in 1983.  The GPO reduces the spousal or widow(er) benefit by two-thirds of the monthly non-covered pension and can partially, or fully, offset an individual's spousal/widow(er) benefit, depending on the amount of the non-covered pension.

Highly Compensated Employee - An individual who:

Owned more than 5% of the interest in the business at any time during the year or the preceding year, regardless of how much compensation that person earned or received, or

For the preceding year, received compensation from the business of more than $125,000 (if the preceding year is 2019, 130,000 if the preceding year is 2020 or 2021, $135,000 if the preceding year is 2022), and

$150,000 (if the preceding year is 2023) and, if the employer so chooses, was in the top 20% of employees when ranked by compensation.

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Divorcing spouses are alerted that these members can have a many as seven separate benefits.

Individual Retirement Account (IRA) – An individual account or annuity set up with a financial institution, such as a bank or a mutual fund company. Under federal law, individuals may set aside personal savings up to a certain amount, and the investments grow, tax deferred. In addition, participants can transfer money from an employer retirement plan to an IRA when leaving an employer. IRAs also can be part of an employer plan.

 Forfeiture - The part of an employee’s account balance (employer contributions) that is lost because it is not vested when the employee terminates employment.

Immediate Offset Settlement
A form of settlement of the pension aspect of a case in which the non-working spouse gives up his or her interest in the pension in exchange for assets of equivalent value. For this type of settlement, no Qualified Domestic Relations Order is required.

Joint & Survivor Annuity
An annuity payable as a result of the death of a retiree. This form of survivor annuity is payable after the death of a retiree. This is not the form of survivor benefit payable as a result of the death of an employee prior to retirement. See QPSA.

Life Only Annuity
An annuity payable for the lifetime of the retiree. Upon the death of the retiree, all payments cease. There is no survivor component to this form of annuity.

An early but significant New York case regarding Equitable Distribution. It contains a good description of the traditional Coverture Fraction.

Marital Property
In non-community property states this is the pool of assets that belong to the marriage and are subject to division upon divorce.

A most significant New Jersey decision regarding the division of property upon divorce.

Military Divorce
A divorce involving either a Regular or Reserve Component member of the armed forces.

Military Reserve Benefits
Retirement benefits exclusive to Reserve Component retirees.

Money Purchase Plan – A money purchase plan requires set annual contributions from the employer to individual accounts and is subject to certain funding and other rules.

New York Retirement System
One of the two major New York retirement systems. There are separate systems for: Police&Fire, Teachers and another system for other Public Employees.

Normal Retirement Age
The age stated in a plan document when a plan participant may retire without any reduction in accrued benefit.

Non-Titled Spouse
The husband or wife of the employee whose pension is subject to division in your divorce action. Generally reference as "Alternate Payee" or "Former Spouse"

Plan Approved Domestic Relations Order. This format may be used by some Deferred Compensation Plans.

Participant - An eligible employee who is covered by a retirement plan. See the discussions of the different types of plans for the definition of an employee eligible to participate in each type of plan.

Plan Administrator – The person who is identified in the plan document as having responsibility for running the plan. It could be the employer, a committee of employees, a company executive or someone hired for that purpose.

Plan Document – A written instrument under which the plan is established and operated.

Plan Fiduciary – Anyone who exercises discretionary authority or discretionary control over management or administration of the plan, exercises any authority or control over management or disposition of plan assets, or gives investment advice for a fee or other compensation with respect to assets of the plan.

Plan Trustee – Someone who has the exclusive authority and discretion to manage and control the plan assets. The trustee can be subject to the direction of a named fiduciary and the named fiduciary can appoint one or more investment managers for the plan’s assets.

Plan Year – A 12-month period designated by a retirement plan for calculating vesting and eligibility, among other things. The plan year can be the calendar year or an alternative period, for example, July 1 to June 30.

Profit-Sharing Plan is a defined contribution plan under which the plan may provide, or the employer may determine, annually, how much will be contributed to the plan (out of profits or otherwise). The plan contains a formula for allocating to each participant a portion of each annual contribution. A profit-sharing plan may include a 401(k) feature.

Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. For bankrupt plans the benefits are administered by this agency. For more on this agency go to the Troyan web site and read the article on PBGC.

Plan Certified Domestic Relations Order. This format may be used by some Deferred Compensation Plans.

A formal Order of a court dividing marital/community property pension assets. This Order requires the approval of the Plan Administrator of the plan that will be distributing assets to both spouses.

Qualified Pre-retirement Survivor Annuity (QPSA)
A form of retirement benefit payable prior to retirement, but, subsequent to the death of the employee. The amount of this annuity is generally 50% of the benefit that would have been paid to the employee had he or she retired on the day before death.

Referencing Benefit
For a Domestic Relations Order it is the benefit to which the Coverture Fraction is applied. For the Traditional Coverture Fraction it is generally the actual retirement benefit of the titled-spouse at the time of his or her retirement.

Restricted Stock Plan
It is a Non-Qualified Plan for executives and other mid to high level executives. The general period of the plan is ten years and vesting takes place within that period. Generally an employee will fully vest in not more than five years. Upon vesting there is a taxable event as the property becomes the asset of the employee. Many firms will divide Restricted stock upon divorce. For the procedure to value this type of stock for divorce: contact Troyan, Inc.

Retirement Equity Act
The federal legislation enacted in 1984 that made the division of pensions on divorce possible.

Retirement Options
The various forms in which a retiring employee may receive his or her pension benefits. Among the major options are: Single Life Annuity, Joint & Survivor and period certain (e.g. an annuity certain[guaranteed] for 10 years).

Rollover – A rollover occurs when a participant directs the transfer of the money in his or her retirement account or IRA to a new plan or IRA.

Safe Harbor 401(k) – A safe harbor 401(k) is similar to a traditional 401(k) plan, but the employer is required to make contributions for each employee. The safe harbor 401(k) eases administrative burdens on employers by eliminating some of the rules ordinarily applied to traditional 401(k) plans.

A Salary Reduction Simplified Employee Pension plan (SARSEP) is a SEP plan set up before 1997 that permits contributions to be made through employee salary reductions. Under a SARSEP, employees and employers make contributions to traditional IRAs set up for the employees, subject to certain percentage-of-pay and dollar limits.  No new SARSEPs can be established after December 31, 1996. However, employers who established SARSEPs prior to January 1, 1997, can continue to maintain them and new employees can participate in the existing SARSEP.

Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees of Small Employers (SIMPLE) – A plan in which a business with 100 or fewer employees can offer retirement benefits through employee salary reductions and employer non- elective or matching contributions (similar to those found in a 401(k) plan). It can be either a SIMPLE IRA or a SIMPLE 401(k). SIMPLE IRA plans impose few administrative burdens on employers because IRAs are owned by the employees, and the bank or financial institution receiving the funds does most of the paperwork. While each has some different features, including contribution limits and the availability of loans, required employer contributions are immediately 100 percent vested in both.

Self-Employed Individual - An individual in business for himself or herself, and whose business is not incorporated, is self-employed. Sole proprietors and partners are self-employed. Self-employment can include part-time work.

Simplified Employee Pension Plan (SEP) – A plan in which an employer contributes on a tax-favored basis to IRAs owned by its employees. If the employer meets certain conditions, it isn't subject to the reporting and disclosure requirements of most retirement plans.

Separate Interest Domestic Relations Order
This form of Domestic Relations Order assigns to an Alternate Payee a portion of the titled-spouse's monthly accrued benefit as his or her sole and separate property. It is the view of this firm that not all ERISA employers fully accept this format. It is strongly suggested that you question the Plan's Administrator to determine if this separate interest becomes effective upon qualification of the Domestic Relations Order or upon the actual retirement of the titled-spouse.

Shared Payment Domestic Relations Order
This form of Domestic Relations Order does not automatically give an Alternate Payee an interest that is payable over the lifetime of said Alternate Payee. To insure that payments to this Alternate Payee are not extinguished by the death of the titled-spouse it is necessary to specifically award in the Property Settlement Agreement that the Alternate Payee is entitled to both QPSA (see above) and Joint & Survivor Annuity benefits.

Single Life Annuity
Upon retirement an annuity that is payable over the lifetime of the titled-spouse. Upon his or her death all payments cease. To avoid this outcome for an Alternate Payee you must use either a Separate Interest QDRO or award an Alternate Payee both QPSA and Joint & Survivor Annuity benefits.

State Retirement Plans
Retirement benefits provided by a state or any of it subdivisions.

Stock Option Plan
A Non-Qualified Plan. There are two forms: Non-Qualified Stock Options and Incentive Stock Options (ISO). You must be familiar with the differences, especially the tax treatment upon distribution to either the employee or an Alternate Payee.

Stream of Payments QDRO:
This form of payment to an Alternate Payee is applicable when the benefit payments to an Alternate Payee begin after the commencement of annuity payments to the titled-spouse.

Subsidized Early Retirement
A form of benefit enhancement that many ERISA plans provide as an incentive for employees to retire early.

Summary Plan Description – A document provided by the plan administrator that includes a plain language description of important features of the plan, for example, when employees begin to participate in the plan, how service and benefits are calculated, when benefits become vested, when payment is received and in what form, and how to file a claim for benefits. Participants must be informed of material changes either through a revised Summary Plan Description or in a separate document called a Summary of Material Modifications.

Time Rule
See Coverture Fraction above.

The pension holder. The employee whose plan is to be divided upon divorce.

Uniformed Services Former Spouse's Protection Act
A must read for Former Spouse's of military persons. This act gives detailed rights to the Former Spouse. However, to receive a part of the service person's benefits or survivor annuity one must follow the federal rules. This is a most complicated area. It is suggested that you Troyan on this issue.

Union Benefits
Benefits provided to member's of collectively bargained agreements. It is useful to note that benefits generally come from more than one source.

The point when an employee's pension benefit is not subject to forfeiture.

Waiver of Survivor Benefits
A major caution to Former Spouse's and Alternate Payee's. Do not sign such waivers of rights unless you are absolutely clear on the impact of your action. You may be signing away very valuable rights.

Welfare Plan
An employer provided benefit other than a pension. For example: Insurance, health or disability benefits. Such benefits are generally divisible upon divorce. Check the rules of your state to be clear on your rights to these valuable employee benefits.

Years of Service – The time an individual has worked in a job covered by the plan. It is used to determine when an individual can participate and vest and how they can accrue benefits in the plan. Generally, a Year of Service requires that an employee accrues at least 1,000 hours of service over a 12-consecutive-month period.

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