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Understanding Retirement Plan Fiduciary Responsibility

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When administering a retirement plan and managing its assets, it is important for employers and plan sponsors to know their specific responsibilities. Learning the standards of 401(k) and fiduciary responsibility can be a headache after keeping track of all the rules and regulations ERISA provides. Thus, 401(k) plan sponsors are seeking answers to help better understand their roles.

Here are some quick facts that can help you better understand your role and fiduciary responsibilities:

  1. A plan fiduciary is anyone who exercises discretion in relation to one’s 401(k) plan or employed by a plan sponsor who acts in a fiduciary role with respect to the retirement plan. For example, all 401(k) plan sponsors and every member of the investment committee is a fiduciary.
  1. A fiduciary has the ability to appoint a fiduciary. Resigning from the investment committee and missing investment Committee meetings will not relieve you of your responsibilities and will not affect your status.
  1. It is recommended that your adviser is a fiduciary. Determine if your adviser is a fiduciary by looking at your signed contract by looking at ERISA Section 3(38) or 3(21) fiduciary.
  1. A plan sponsor can only welcome and appoint more fiduciaries, but never relieve its fiduciary responsibility.
  1. Neither your plan’s record-keeper nor attorney are likely to be fiduciaries since they do not have discretionary authority.
  1. Fiduciaries are not responsible for insuring investment option performance.
  1. If proper due diligence was not exercised in choosing an investment option by prior fiduciaries, existing fiduciaries are not exempt from responsibility/liability if they decide to continue to offer the fund.
  1. Existing fiduciaries are not exempt from responsibility/liability if they continue to offer the fund recommendation made by an expert.
  1. Employers should have fiduciary liability insurance and your plan should also have an ERISA fidelity bond. You can contract for co-fiduciary services and elect to comply with a number of the safe harbors the regulations offer.

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Topics: 401(k), ERISA, fiduciary responsibility, plan sponsors, retirement plan