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How do I check the status of a 401k if I am a named beneficiary?

I have been in contact with the HR department at Consolidated Scrap Resources, the company my deceased grandmother worked for, about her 401k. She sent the necessary paper and I filled them out but I haven't heard anything from her since. I was just inquiring to see if there was a way I could check the status of it or to see if there was any way I could speed up the process.

May 12, 2015 by christopher in  |  Flag
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Herbert N Glass Level 18


Generally, someone needs to notify the HR Department of the company your deceased grandmother worked for to let them know of her death I they have not already been notified by someone in the company that already knew of her demise. But in addition you may want to provide the HR department with a copy of her death certificate along with a copy of her recent beneficiary designation that you say you filled out for her. I hope you made a copy.

Whether or not you have a copy of the designation, you should send them a copy of her death certificate and a letter indicating that you believe that you are her beneficiary and would like to know what paperwork you may need to fill out to apply for any death benefit that you may have as her beneficiary. If for some reason the HR Department does not have a copy of the beneficiary form that you believe she submitted to the HR Department, they will most likely contact you and deny your claim to receive her death benefit. Your only recourse would be to find your copy of her signed beneficiary form indicating that you are in fact her beneficiary.

If you are unable to find your signed copy and the HR Department does not have one then her "Personal Representative" or "Executor" should contact the company and ask what death benefit, if any, someone or the estate is entitled to. That is, if a plan participant dies without a beneficiary form being on file, the death benefit will be paid to the participants estate in which case the participants Last Will and Testament will dictate who is to get whatever death benefit the plan will pay.

I hope this information is of help to you.

Herbert N. Glass, Certified Pension Consultant Glass Retirement Strategies, Inc. Bingham Farms, MI 49025

2 Comments   |  Flag   |  May 12, 2015 from Franklin, MI

Thanks for your quick response. I'm sorry I wasn't clear with my previous post, but the paperwork I spoke of was the paperwork the HR department filed after death. A death certificate was provided along with my personal info. Social, DOB etc. That's where the communication stopped though. Wasn't sure if its possible for me to check the status or possibly speed things up.

Flag |  May 12, 2015
Herbert N Glass

You are confusing me. If you are saying the HR Dept. has a copy of the signed beneficiary designation and they filed something. What did they file and where? I do not understand what that activity is about. With respect to what you may be able to do to speed up the process, first I would suggest you contact the HR Department and get confirmation that they agree you are the beneficiary, also find out what their normal timing is to process a death benefit claim. If their answer does not satisfy you and they are taking longer than the plan document or law says the process should take, you should express your concern in writing to the "Plan Administrator." If you are still not satisfied I suggest you contact your nearest DOL (Department of Labor) and talk to someone in the Qualified Plan's Department. If they can, they will help you for free to get whatever money you have coming to you. Otherwise, your only other recourse would be to hire an attorney to help you. Of your choices, you should first exhaust your attempts to work directly with the HR Dept before going to the DOL or hiring an attorney.

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Flag |  May 13, 2015 near Franklin, MI

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I am sorry for your loss. The 401k plan has certain steps to follow in order to process a distribution due to a death. Sometimes it can take a month or longer to distribute during quarter end processing or other timing issues. I know that it can be frustrating and you want answers now.

I would follow up with the HR Department and keep track of names, dates and the nature of the discussion - just to keep a record of your actions. If you are close to the business location, make an appointment to see them in person.

You have given them a death certificate and other paperwork to facilitate a transfer, they should be doing all that is necessary to follow your Grandmother's intent.

David G Niggel

Comment   |  Flag   |  May 15, 2015 from Lititz, PA

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The other answers assume the account holder has died. It is not clear, but it occurs to me that you may be asking as a named beneficiary of an account holder still living.

This scenario might come up in the case of a spouse trying to get a handle on what the assets there are if they are considering a separation or divorce. In a separation or divorce proceeding, an attorney can request information on assets owned by the spouse but prior to that, I am not aware of any rights to view the account without the account owner's permission. In an IRA at Schwab they can sign a form giving a beneficiary viewing authority but that is completely voluntary on the account holder's part.

Comment   |  Flag   |  May 19, 2015 from Charlotte, NC

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A 401k will typically be used to pay off bills and debt after the death of the account holder. In fact, most situations will mandate the repayment of debt and bills before a beneficiary can collect any money from the account. If the account passes on to the deceased's heirs-at-law, it is not part of the probate process. However, the inheritors of the estate must find a way to pay off the deceased's debt, and using the 401k funds may be wise.

I suggest you contact the executor of the estate to determine the time frame for settlement of the estate.

1 Comment   |  Flag   |  May 13, 2015 from Snyderville, UT
John Essigman

A beneficiary has no obligation to pay any of the debts of the deceased.

Flag |  May 22, 2015 near Cleveland, GA

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