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By: Hannah DeLuca, W. Andrew Douglass, and Elizabeth Bray, Polsinelli P.C.
This article addresses the steps that plan sponsors and fiduciaries must take to locate and notify missing participants in qualified defined contribution and qualified defined benefit plans regarding benefits that are due to them under the plan.
PLAN ADMINISTRATORS ARE OBLIGATED UNDER THE Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to conduct a diligent search to locate missing participants and beneficiaries. The fact that participants and beneficiaries cannot be located poses a problem for plan administrators in active plans when a distribution is required and in terminated plans for which the plan administrator must liquidate the benefit trust. Recently, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) opened its missing participant program to terminating defined contribution plans and other previously excluded defined benefit plans. This article summarizes guidance regarding missing participants, provides an overview of the revised PBGC program, and offers tips for plan administrators to handle (and avoid) missing participant issues.
Missing participants (which term includes beneficiaries and alternate payees with accrued benefits as used in this article) become an acute issue for qualified retirement plan sponsors, administrators, or other fiduciaries in several circumstances, such as:
To read the full practice note in Lexis Practice Advisor, follow this link.
Hannah DeLuca, a shareholder at Polsinelli P.C., works with all types of employers, from government entities to large public companies and innovative start-ups. She enjoys guiding a variety of public and private entities, helping them become established and in compliance with relevant tax law. Hannah assists clients with navigating the complicated issues surrounding health plans, welfare plans, ERISA, DOL laws for retirement plans, and executive compensation. W. Andrew Douglass, a shareholder at Polsinelli P.C., has a prior background as an actuarial consultant in the employee benefits practice of a large public accounting firm. Andrew brings a multi-faceted approach to helping employers address the legal, financial, and administrative issues that affect their benefit plans. He also serves as chair of the Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation practice group at Polsinelli. Elizabeth Bray is an associate at Polsinelli P.C. She routinely drafts and reviews welfare plans, including group health plans, cafeteria plans, and wellness plans, as well as qualified pension, profit-sharing, and non-qualified retirement plans. Liz uses her experience to assist clients with the tax and ERISA issues that arise in connection with mergers, acquisitions, and other corporate transactions.
For guidance on identifying employee benefit plans and programs that are subject to regulation under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), see
> IDENTIFYING ERISA EMPLOYEE BENEFIT PLANS
RESEARCH PATH: Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation > Retirement Plans > ERISA and Fiduciary Compliance > Practice Notes
For a discussion on the various fiduciaries of employee benefit plans under ERISA, including their duties and obligations, see
> FUNDAMENTALS OF ERISA FIDUCIARY DUTIES
For the steps that plan sponsors and fiduciaries must take to locate and notify missing participants when terminating qualified defined contribution and qualified defined benefit plans, see
> LOCATING MISSING PARTICIPANTS WHEN TERMINATING DEFINED CONTRIBUTION AND DEFINED BENEFIT PLANS
For an explanation of the potential employer liability and notice obligations under ERISA when there is a cessation of operations at a facility that results in the termination of employment of retirement-plan-eligible employees, see
> ERISA § 4062(E): SUBSTANTIAL CESSATION OF OPERATIONS LIABILITY FOR DEFINED BENEFIT PLANS