Retirement Plans - Essential Elements

South Florida Retirement Plan Attorney:

What Are The Essential Elements Of A Retirement Plan?

Each plan has certain key elements. These include:

  • A written plan that describes the benefit structure and guides day-to-day operations;
  • A trust fund to hold the plan's assets;
  • A recordkeeping system to track the flow of monies going to and from the retirement plan; and
  • Documents to provide plan information to employees participating in the plan and to the government.

Employers often hire outside professionals (sometimes called third-party service providers) or, if applicable, use an internal administrative committee or human resources department to manage some or all of a plan's day-to-day operations. Indeed, there may be one or a number of officials with discretion over the plan. These are the plan's fiduciaries.

Who Is A Plan Fiduciary?

Many of the actions involved in operating a plan make the person or entity performing them a fiduciary. Using discretion in administering and managing a plan or controlling the plan's assets makes that person a fiduciary to the extent of that discretion or control. Thus, fiduciary status is based on the functions performed for the plan, not just a person's title.

A plan must have at least one fiduciary (a person or entity) named in the written plan, or through a process described in the plan, as having control over the plan's operation. The named fiduciary can be identified by office or by name. For some plans, it may be an administrative committee or a company's board of directors.

A plan's fiduciaries will ordinarily include the trustee, investment advisers, all individuals exercising discretion in the administration of the plan, all members of a plan's administrative committee (if it has such a committee), and those who select committee officials. Attorneys, accountants, and actuaries generally are not fiduciaries when acting solely in their professional capacities. The key to determining whether an individual or an entity is a fiduciary is whether they are exercising discretion or control over the plan.

A number of decisions are not fiduciary actions but rather are business decisions made by the employer. For example, the decisions to establish a plan, to determine the benefit package, to include certain features in a plan, to amend a plan, and to terminate a plan are business decisions not governed by ERISA.  When making these decisions, an employer is acting on behalf of its business, not the plan, and, therefore, is not a fiduciary.  However, when an employer (or someone hired by the employer) takes steps to implement these decisions, that person is acting on behalf of the plan and, in carrying out these actions, may be a fiduciary.