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A Challenge to Actuarial Assumptions in Defined Benefit Plans: Are Optional Forms of Benefits Actuarially Equivalent?


Sept. 17, 2019
Recorded Online

Recent Case Law, Claims and Defenses, Fiduciary Obligations, Avoiding Administrative Pitfalls, Plan Modifications

This CLE webinar will provide ERISA counsel and advisers an in-depth analysis of the use of actuarial assumptions in defined benefit plans. The panel will discuss recent court cases, plaintiff's claims, defenses, and relief under ERISA. The panel will also discuss key considerations for plan sponsors and fiduciaries to avoid administrative pitfalls and potential plan modifications to avoid litigation.

Recent lawsuits against MetLife, Pepsi, and American Airlines set the foundation for several cases against plan sponsors and administrators challenging the use of actuarial assumptions in determining annuity payments. ERISA counsel and advisers must understand the potential liability associated with the use of actuarial assumptions and methods to curtail claims and avoid litigation.

Defined benefit plans use actuarial assumptions when converting between benefit forms or calculating early retirement benefits. It calculates the present value of future payments of a joint and survivor annuity. In recent cases, plaintiffs allege that plan sponsors have failed to pay benefits under the plan that are actuarially equivalent to a single life annuity for the life of the plan participant as required by Section 205 of ERISA, causing retirees to lose portions of their vested retirement benefits.

Under ERISA, plans must ensure that joint and survivor annuities be "actuarially equivalent" to a single-life annuity. However, since the majority of plans that use actuarial assumptions with payments being calculated based on typically outdated mortality rates and standards, there is an increased risk of participant claims and litigation.

Listen as our panel discusses the impact of recent actuarial equivalent court cases on plan administration and compliance, potential defenses and relief under ERISA, plan modifications to avoid litigation, and critical considerations for plan sponsors and fiduciaries to avoid administrative pitfalls.


  • Overview of the use of actuarial assumptions in retirement plans
  • Benefit calculations using actuarial factors
  • Fiduciary obligations and liability
  • Recent cases and developments: plaintiff claims, ERISA regulations, defenses
  • Best practices for ERISA counsel and plan sponsors to avoid claims

The panel will review these and other key issues:

  • Issues stemming from the use of actuarial assumptions in retirement plans
  • Challenging actuarial assumptions and recent court cases
  • Disclosure and reasonableness of actuarial assumptions in defined benefit plans
  • Critical considerations for plan sponsors and administrators to avoid claims

Faculty: Brian J. Lamb, Partner, Thompson Hine

More Information, How to Register

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