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Missing Participants FAQs

If you're looking for information on the updated program to include 401(k)s and other plans, see our Proposed Expanded Missing Participants Program webpages.

Overview of Missing Participants Program

  • Q: How do I close out my plan if I can't locate every participant and beneficiary?

    A: PBGC's Missing Participants Program was created by the Retirement Protection Act of 1994 to provide a way for distributing plan benefits to participants and beneficiaries who cannot be located in plans terminating in a standard termination or in a distress termination where the plan was sufficient for all guaranteed benefits. (See Section 4050 of ERISA and 29 CFR Part 4050)

    An employer choosing to terminate a fully funded pension plan must distribute all plan benefits to participants and beneficiaries before completing the plan's termination.

    If you cannot find a participant or beneficiary after a diligent search you must either purchase an annuity from a private insurer in that person's name and provide information on the missing person and insurer to PBGC or transfer the value of the person's benefit to PBGC's Missing Participants Program.

    If an annuity is purchased, it must be purchased by the same distribution deadline that applies to other benefits generally. If the value of the missing participant's benefit is paid to PBGC, it must generally be paid by the time the Post-Distribution Certification is submitted. However, PBGC will assess interest for late payment of an amount for a missing participant only to the extent the payment is made more than 90 days after the benefit distribution deadline.

  • Q: My plan isn't terminating but I have a number of "missing participants." May I turn their benefits over to PBGC?

    A: No. ERISA limits PBGC's Missing Participants Program to terminated defined benefit plans. Ongoing defined benefit plans and plans that are not covered by Title IV are not eligible for this program.

  • Q: May I use PBGC's Missing Participants Program for a participant whose whereabouts are known but who refuses to return the election forms?

    A: No. You must purchase an annuity for the participant in order to complete the termination. The annuity contract must preserve all of the participant's benefit options.

Forms and Instructions for Missing Participants

Diligent Search

  • Q: What requirements must be met for a "diligent search" before money can be paid to PBGC?

    A: You may learn that a participant or beneficiary is missing after sending the Notice of Intent to Terminate to the person's last known address. In this situation, you are required to conduct a "diligent search" as described in 29 CFR 4050.4. A diligent search includes inquiry of any beneficiaries of the missing participant whose names and addresses are known to the plan administrator. It also includes use of a commercial locator service. The participant may not be charged for the search. The plan administrator must complete the diligent search before transferring money to PBGC for the person's benefit.

  • Q: When must a "diligent search" be made?

    A: A diligent search must begin not more than 6 months before notices of intent to terminate are issued. It must be carried on in such a manner that if the individual is found, distribution to the individual can reasonably be expected to be made by the "deemed distribution date" as described in 29 CFR 4050.

  • Q: Q: Is a "diligent search" required if an annuity is purchased for a missing participant?

    A: Yes, a diligent search is required for any missing participant, whether an annuity is purchased for that participant or that participant's benefit is paid to the PBGC.


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