Best Practices for Missing Plan Participants

Sep 16, 2021 | Retirement Plans

Best Practices for Missing Plan Participants | Watkins Ross

In January 2021, the Department of Labor (DOL) released new guidance on dealing with missing participants – former employees with a retirement account balance. For whatever reason, the cannot be located to deliver withdrawal paperwork or cash-out checks. The DOL lists out ways plan sponsors should be searching for these missing participants.  This includes using free online search engines, searching social media, and checking other employer records for alternative contact information. The DOL is beginning to crack down more on how plans handle missing participants so they can access their retirement funds.

Best Practice – Create a Document

First, best practices for plan sponsors include creating a document to outline the lost participant search procedure. Following a written policy, which provides for several methods of attempted contact, can show the DOL that the plan is making its best good-faith effort to track missing participants. An essential step in creating a plan procedure is to document the implementation of the process. Then, documenting each attempt at locating missing participants is important.

Best Practice – Include an Address Update Form

Next, another practice to implement is including an address update form in any exit interview paperwork and updating addresses with all plan participants at least yearly. In this case, preventing a former participant from becoming missing is much more efficient than trying to track someone down years down the line. 


In conclusion, while not every missing participant is found, implementing multiple search opportunities will help in the long run if the DOL pushes more on these cases. As the quote goes: “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago; the second-best time is now”. Start implementing different search methods or preventative measures now, as in twenty years this will be the best time. While the best practices outlined by the DOL do not yet have the force and effect of law, this is a good idea of what the DOL will be implemented in the future.

For more information, read the DOL’s press releases here.

As always, contact us at Watkins Ross for additional clarification. 

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