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- ERISA Fiduciary Advisor

Who are the plan's fiduciaries?

Fiduciaries are generally those individuals or entities who manage an employee benefit plan and its assets.  Employers often hire outside professionals, sometimes called third-party service providers, or use an internal administrative committee or human resources department to manage some or all of a plan's day-to-day operations. 

Even if an employer hires third-party service providers or uses internal administrative committees to manage the plan, it still has fiduciary responsibilities.

Fiduciary status is based on the functions the person performs for the plan, not just the person's title. Using discretion in administering and managing a plan or controlling the plan's assets makes that person a fiduciary to the extent of that discretion or control.

A plan must have at least one fiduciary, a person or an entity, named in the written plan, or through a process described in the plan.  The named fiduciary can be identified by office or by name. For some plans, it may be an administrative committee or a company's board of directors. 

Additional examples of a plan's fiduciaries include:

  • the trustee,
  • the investment advisers,
  • all individuals exercising discretion in the administration of the plan, and
  • those who select committee officials.

Attorneys, accountants, and actuaries generally are not fiduciaries when acting solely in their professional capacities.  Determining whether an individual or an entity is a fiduciary depends on whether such individuals are exercising discretion or control over the plan.

Not all decisions regarding a retirement plan are fiduciary actions - some are business decisions.  For example, when an employer decides to establish a plan, create a benefit package, include certain features in a plan, or amend or terminate a plan, it is a business decision. However, when an employer or someone hired by the employer takes steps to implement these decisions, that person is a fiduciary.

For more information, please see the Interpretive Bulletin on Fiduciary Responsibility.

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