You paid into your pension for years, but now that it’s time to get those benefits, the company’s gone or your money is nowhere to be found. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) was designed to protect you and ensure that you get the money you’re owed.
According to the Pension Rights Center, 22% of workers participate in a pension plan. The Department of Labor states: “If a defined benefit plan is terminated, [ERISA] guarantees payment of certain benefits through a federally chartered corporation known as the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.”
There are multiple reasons you might not get the pension benefits you’re entitled to.
Types of Funds
A pension plan holds essential retirement funds. You may have a 401(k) or 403(b), and your employer may or may not match the funds you contribute to one of these plans, up to a certain percentage. If you have a 403(b), you likely work for a public employer.
ERISA creates legal standards for the management of retirement funds. If the money is mismanaged, that is often a breach of fiduciary duty.
Fiduciaries and Fiduciary Duty
A fiduciary is a person who takes care of a client’s money or assets. It is a fiduciary’s legal obligation to act in the best interests of the person whose money they have been entrusted to manage.
Sometimes the fiduciary fails to act in the best interests of the individual in question. A breach of fiduciary duty often means that the entrusted party does not properly inform a participant/beneficiary, which can lead to a number of complications.
When it comes to pensions, this breach could involve a fiduciary who:
- Uses another’s pension fund for their own benefit
- Acts against the beneficiary’s best interests
- Receives compensation of some sort from those in charge of the fund’s assets
- Never examined the pension plan for viability and/or didn’t reevaluate twice per year
If you believe your fiduciary is tapping your pension assets or benefiting from them in some way that is not directly in the service of your best interests, they may be breaking the law. Similarly, problems can arise when a fiduciary shirks their duty and does not carefully examine a pension plan to make sure it benefits the participant and not the employer — whether it’s when they first set up the plan or when they’re meant to check it biannually.
Your workplace may have hired someone to act in your financial interests when it comes to your pension plan. If that person handles your funds incorrectly or makes a mistake, it’s important to take action to make sure you are compensated for all the pension funds that should be in your possession.
If a fiduciary was hired to take care of your retirement funds and they didn’t fulfill their duty to you, that’s illegal.
While there are pensions that terminate with a person’s death, some do provide financial support to spouses or dependents. These are sometimes called survivor benefits. Of course, it depends on what pension plan the deceased was enrolled in prior to their death.
In addition, if a spouse or parent dies and was paying into a pension, it’s important to ensure that if you are supposed to receive those funds, that payment is not overlooked.