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Does a non-electing Church Plan need to provide SPDs?


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The Church has a DB plan that was updated in 2011. It is a non-electing plan. They are currently amending the plan and I mentioned providing a SMM to participants. They would prefer not to have to do that since they are not covered by ERISA, and I don't know the answer. I don't know if an SPD was ever provided, or if it should have been if it wasn't. Your guidance would be appreciated.

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If the pension plan really is a pension plan and has not elected to be governed by ERISA, the non-application of ERISA means that ERISA does not preempt State law.

The common law of trusts and other fiduciary relationships includes duties for a trustee or other fiduciary to communicate to its beneficiaries. Depending on the facts and circumstances, one might interpret such a duty to call for a fiduciary to furnish to participants some summary, rather than the pension plan's governing instrument. This is especially so if the plan allows a participant some choices about the time or form (and indirectly amounts) of her pension benefit.

Consider inviting the fiduciaries to seek their lawyer's advice about what means of communicating the plan's provisions is prudent in the plan's and its participants' circumstances.

Peter Gulia PC

Fiduciary Guidance Counsel

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania



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If the church is part of a larger denomination, there may be overall policy (not necessarily rules) that indicate certain level of communication to employees.

BTW, even if not subject to ERISA, providing a "pension booklet" can be a good idea, whether or not you use the term SPD.

I'm a retirement actuary. Nothing about my comments is intended or should be construed as investment, tax, legal or accounting advice. Occasionally, but not all the time, it might be reasonable to interpret my comments as actuarial or consulting advice.

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I certainly agree that some type of communication to the plan participants regarding the plan's benefits and features makes a great deal of sense. I'm getting a strong impression that nothing about the new amendment will be sent to participants, and it's very possible that nobody would care anyway. I was just hoping that the requirement to communicate or not communicate would be more definitive and not so grey. I appreciate getting your input, so thank you both for responding.

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