Locating Missing Participants – Much Appreciated DOL Guidance
Last Updated: January 16, 2015
- all plan assets must be distributed from a plan’s trust before a final Form 5500 can be filed, so any missing participants can lead to a delay in this filing; and
- any issuance of a favorable determination letter — necessary to complete the termination — contemplates the distribution of all assets, so the failure to locate participants could effectively render such a determination letter void.
- Use Certified Mail. Certified mail is an easy way to find out, at little cost, whether the participant can be located in order to distribute benefits. The DOL provided a model notice that could be used for such mailings as part of a regulatory safe harbor . . . but its use is not required and other notices could satisfy the safe harbor.
- Check Related Plan and Employer Records. While the records of the terminated plan may not contain current address information, it is possible that the employer or another of the employer’s plans, such as a group health plan, may have more up-to-date information. For this reason, plan fiduciaries of the terminated plan must ask both the employer and administrator(s) of related plans to search their records for a more current address for the missing participant. If there are privacy concerns, the plan fiduciary engaged in the search can request that the employer or other plan fiduciary contact or forward a letter for the terminated plan to the missing participant or beneficiary. The letter would request that the missing participant or beneficiary contact the searching plan fiduciary.
- Check With Designated Plan Beneficiary. In searching the terminated plan’s records or the records of related plans, plan fiduciaries must try to identify and contact any individual that the missing participant has designated as a beneficiary (e.g., spouse, children, etc.) to find updated contact information for the missing participant. Again, if there are privacy concerns, the plan fiduciary can request that the designated beneficiary contact forward a letter for the terminated plan to the missing participant or beneficiary.
- Use Free Electronic Search Tools. Plan fiduciaries must make reasonable use of Internet search tools that do not charge a fee to search for a missing participant or beneficiary. Such online services include Internet search engines, public record databases (such as those for licenses, mortgages and real estate taxes), obituaries and social media.2