I frequently am asked by plan sponsors and plan administrators about how to respond to a request for plan documentation. Under Section 104(b)(4) of ERISA, a plan administrator is obligated to provide certain information when requested by a participant or beneficiary. This documentation includes the summary plan description, the latest annual report (if the plan files one) and any bargaining agreement, contract or trust document under which the plan is established.  Sounds fairly simple, right?

Well, under 502(c), there is a $110 a day penalty for failing to provide the documentation within 30 days when requested, so there are some timeliness requirements to the response, and there the penalty associated with not complying with the request. The 104(b)(4) section allows for a reasonable charge for copies if requested. But who can request them? The term "participant" or "beneficiary" is not clearly defined in these sections. Well, generally, we know that a participant or beneficiary is someone who participates in the plan or is entitled to benefits under the terms of the plan. But it may also be someone who has a "colorable claim" to benefits. Perhaps an ex-spouse who thinks they are entitled to life insurance benefits. Or perhaps a step-child who thinks they meet the definition of a dependent. So it is important to consider who is requesting the information and not just their actual status, but their possible status as well.

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