When to Call Your ERISA Benefits Attorney

If you are responsible for the administration of your company’s retirement plan, you probably reach out to the plan’s record-keeper and investment advisor on a frequent basis.  With the extensive bundled services offered by many record-keepers, you may wonder why you even need the name of an ERISA benefits attorney in your contacts list.  An experienced ERISA benefits attorney will provide advice that is solely in the interest of your company and its retirement plan.  When major events happen that impact plan administration, ERISA fiduciaries know that it is prudent to contact their ERISA benefits attorney to discuss the situation and examine their options.

While not all inclusive, here is a list of events that would prompt a prudent plan administrator to reach out to their ERISA benefits attorney, and examples of the advice that you might receive from your attorney:

  • The plan sponsor is going to engage in a business transaction, such as buying or selling a part of the business.  Your attorney can advise you on how to minimize disruption to the plan participants, whether a controlled group has been created, whether there might be considerations under the Affordable Care Act, and whether there is need to analyze liability for single- or multi-employer pensions.
  • The plan sponsor is opening a new facility where the employees of that subsidiary will be reported under an employer identification number that is different than the one used by the plan sponsor.  Your attorney can confirm if the plan document needs to be updated to reflect the new participating employer.
  • The plan sponsor is thinking about changing record-keepers.  Your attorney may have pointers on how to ensure a smooth transition to a new record-keeper.
  • The accounting firm auditing the retirement plan has raised questions about the timeliness of the transfer of 401(k) salary deferrals.  A discussion with your attorney may help you discover facts to show that the funds were transferred as soon as they could be segregated from the plan sponsor’s assets.
  • The plan’s fiduciary committee meetings are perfunctory, with little discussion. Your attorney could facilitate a discussion of the goals that the company is trying to achieve through its offering of the retirement plan.
  • The IRS or the Department of Labor has selected the plan for audit. Your attorney can review documents for accuracy and completeness before they are given to the IRS or the Department of Labor and potentially minimizing the subsequent questions.
  • The record-keeper for the plan suggests that you call an ERISA benefits attorney.  If your record-keeper makes such a recommendation, you know you have encountered an area of administration where, depending on the facts, there may be more than one way to resolve the issue.

Whether a major event or a one-off situation, sometimes it is best to place a quick call to the plan’s ERISA benefit attorney to confirm that the proposed course of action is appropriate and nothing else needs to be done.

About the Author:

Deborah Grace is a Member in Dickinson Wright’s Troy office where she advises business owners, human resources professionals and plan fiduciaries on the complex laws that impact the design and administration of their retirement  and welfare benefit plans.  She has extensive experience advising clients on the employee benefits aspects of business transactions, and fixing inadvertent errors in plan administration.  She can be reached at 248-433-7217 or dgrace@dickinsonwright.com and you can visit her bio here.