How would we confirm that a beneficiary has been notified? The money is just going to sit in this account, because we do not know who the beneficiary is? Is there so many days for the beneficiary to contact a 401k administrator? We are concerned.
Hi Julie. I'm not a lawyer, but I recently went through this process when my father died. While all states differ in their processes, here is a general overview for you.
When settling an estate, an executor or personal representative will be appointed by the probate court. This person will need to produce a death certificate and a letter from the court stating that they are in charge of administrating the estate and submit these to the 401(k) provider. The executor should then be able to work with the 401(k) provider to determine the beneficiaries and help with the paperwork to make the appropriate distributions.
I know it is a difficult time, but try not to be frustrated with the paperwork. It's a process to make the distributions and the provider is required to dot their i's and cross their t's. Good luck to you.
Hi Julie, traditionally when someone passes away and they have a 401k account, it is the duty of the estate (i.e., the spouse, the children, or the executor) to contact the plan administrator to notify them of the participant's passing. (This is the same with any insurance policies, by the way!)
If you know how to get in touch with the HR department of the company that the decedent worked for, you can contact them and they should be able to help you or at least give you a phone number for the plan administrator. Most of the time they can help you get the process started, but some HR departments are bigger and more knowledgeable than others. ("Plan administrator" refers to the organization that holds and runs the plan, not the company that the decedent worked for. For example, a lot of large companies, like GE or IBM, have big organizations like Vanguard or Fidelity as their "plan administrator.")
If the company's HR department doesn't know what to do or is unhelpful, you can search for a 401k statement in the decedent's files. 401k statements should be mailed out at least once a year to the participant's home address. Generally there is a contact number listed on those statements, and they are a good place to start.
Be aware that the plan administrator will not legally be able to tell you much about the account (information such as account value, beneficiaries, etc.) until they have a copy of a death certificate and some other forms, but they should at least be able to tell you what they'll need to have in order to tell you more and begin the distribution process. Once they have told you what information they'll need from you, ask them how long it typically takes them to process the forms and update their system. This will give you an idea of when to call them back and follow up. (Many times the people on the phone are just operators looking at computer screens, and in the back office of some larger organizations it can sometimes take a while to get the forms processed and into the system so that the operators know they can talk to you.)
Assuming that you've recently lost a loved one, my condolences. And if you have further questions, please let me know!