Is a Plan Administrator Required for ERISA and non-ERISA Plans?

Experts from Groom Law Group and CAPTRUST answer questions concerning retirement plan administration and regulations.

I read your Ask the Experts column on the definition of a plan administrator under ERISA Section 3(16) with great interest as I was unfamiliar with the term. Is it an optional provision of ERISA, or are ALL ERISA retirement plans required to have a plan administrator under ERISA Section 3(16)? And what about non-ERISA plans?”

Charles Filips, Kimberly Boberg, David Levine and David Powell, with Groom Law Group, and Michael A. Webb, senior financial adviser at CAPTRUST, answer:

The Experts are glad you raised this issue since plan sponsors are often confused about the plan administrator requirements. Under Section 3(16), having a plan administrator is NOT optional for plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. An ERISA plan is indeed required to have a plan administrator and, as indicated in our prior column, the plan administrator is the plan sponsor unless another person/entity is indicated in the plan document.

Fortunately, although ERISA and related Department of Labor guidance makes multiple references to the term, the actual duties of a plan administrator as specified in ERISA are somewhat limited, including signing the annual Form 5500 report as the plan administrator. So, if you are unfamiliar with the term as a representative of a plan sponsor, it won’t take much to bring you up to speed. Reading our prior column referenced above and having a discussion with ERISA counsel about whether there are any doubts as to the identity and duties of the plan administrator should suffice.

As for non-ERISA plans, the plan administrator definition is found in ERISA, but not in the Internal Revenue Code. There is no corresponding rule under the Internal Revenue Code requiring that plans which are not otherwise subject to ERISA are required to have a plan administrator. As such, non-ERISA plans do not technically require a plan administrator as defined under Section 3(16). That said, even non-ERISA plans generally have the employer (or perhaps a committee) fill a role similar to that of the “plan administrator.”


NOTE: This feature is to provide general information only, does not constitute legal advice, and cannot be used or substituted for legal or tax advice.

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