The Department of Labor has issued guidance for plan fiduciaries who need to locate missing plan participants and beneficiaries. Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2014-01 describes the steps a plan fiduciary should use to locate these missing plan participants and beneficiaries.
The FAB discusses locating missing participants in the context of a plan termination, when plan accounts must be distributed to all participants; however, the guidance is also informative in other situations where the plan must make a distribution to a participant or beneficiary, such as a plan correction requiring cash-out distributions to former participants.
If a participant remains missing after using any standard methods of communicating with participants, such as first-class mail or e-mail, the Department of Labor believes that plan fiduciaries should take all of the following steps to locate the missing participant:
- Certified mail
- Check the records of other employer plans or ask the administrator of other employer plans to send the communication to the address on file
- Request contact information from the designated beneficiary (or request that the beneficiary forward the communication to the participant)
- Use free electronic search tools, such as internet search engines, public record databases, obituaries, and social media
If the plan fiduciaries still cannot locate the participant using the methods above, the DOL advises that use of additional search methods that may incur charges may be appropriate, depending on the size of the participant’s account relative to the cost of the search. These additional search methods include:
- Commercial locator services
- Inquiring with credit reporting agencies
- Using an investigation database or an information broker
The reasonable costs of the search for a missing participant can be charged to the participant’s account.