With the requirement that retirement plan administrators provide statements to retirees of account balances and benefit levels on a regular basis, the concept of including a disclaimer on the notices can be overlooked. Most administrators are reluctant to state that the benefits may be subject to change in the future. Particularly in the defined benefit plan arena, when participants request a calculation of their benefits, either before or at the time of retirement, some administrators may not want to advertise that the statement is not a guarantee.

However, a recent case out of the northern part of Ohio suggests that disclaimers may be the very thing that protects a plan administrator from a claim for breach of duty if benefits have to be recalculated or adjusted. In Spiewacki v. Ford Motor Co.-UAW Ret. Bd. of Admin., the court determined a disclaimer that repeatedly stated that benefit calculations were merely estimates and could change, protected the administrator from a claim brought to stop the change. In this case, a pensioner brought a variety of claims against Ford alleging they should be precluded from paying him a benefit level lower than his original estimate. He claimed that the miscalculation induced him to retire and the company should be “estopped” — a legal term for prevented — from reducing his benefits.

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