(Mid-America Pension Rights Project): I want to begin receiving my pension benefit, where do I start?  (Part 4)  

By Sandra Wisnewski, Director of the Mid-America Pension Rights Project at Elder Law of Michigan 

I want to begin receiving my pension benefit, where do I start?  (Part 4) 

The Mid-America Pension Rights Project (MAPRP) assists clients with pension and 401(k) issues. There are no age or income restrictions and there is never a charge for the services. The Pension Project works to find answers and solutions to your pension-related problem. 

When writing to a pension plan there are issues you must be aware of. If you have questions and are asking for the plan documents, there are usually no issues with that request.  However, if you don’t agree with what the plan is telling you and put this in writing to the plan this may start the internal process.  Meaning, now the plan must do research on the raised issue and make a determination.   By law, the plan must allow you to make a claim and appeal.  ERISA mandates that a company offer a claim and appeal, but some companies allow 2 appeals.  Once these processes are done, then you are left with only a court action.  If you forget or don’t know what arguments to make on your own behalf and proceed with the internal process, you may be barred to raise different or more arguments later in court.  This is the danger of proceeding by yourself without legal assistance.   

For instance, let’s say that you write to the plan and ask for the Plan Document and SPD, and your work history.  No problem. No timelines will be triggered because you are merely asking for information.  Now let’s say you decide to follow up with another letter, indicating that you read the plan document and you disagree with their interpretation of the plan or the number of years you worked is incorrect.  This type of language may now trigger the “claim for benefits” stage. Once a claim for benefits has been made, you will receive a letter back from the company that is called a determination.   

The determination letter will indicate why the plan disagrees with you and a timeline will be within the letter indicating that you have 30, 60, 90 days or more to make an argument again. This second argument is called an appeal.  If you don’t submit the appeal on time, you may lose your right to go to court or hire an attorney for further review.  If you make an argument based on what you think is the issue and your wrong, even if you are timely on your appeal, you may not be able to raise the actual issue in court.  Basically, once you go down the road of arguing the facts or law you may not be able to turn back.  

We have many people who call the MAPRP who have already gone through the internal process unsuccessfully. Once this occurs you are left with going to court.  In the 11 years I have been working with clients, 99% of the cases we take are resolved within the internal process, no court is needed.  Before you start the pension process, it is wise to talk with an attorney about the best way to proceed.  The MAPRP assists clients who have pension issues for no cost! If you have a pension question or issue, please don’t hesitate to contact us.   

The Pension Project is funded by the federal government through a grant provided by the Administration for Community Living and is a program of Elder Law of Michigan, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit.   

Since the program began in 1998, the Pension Project has assisted over 16,000 clients and has recovered over 81 million dollars in pension benefits. The Pension Project assists clients that either worked in or are currently living in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. For more information, visit Mid-America Pension Rights Project

If you need help with or information about your pension or 401(k) benefit, please call the Mid-America Pension Rights Project at 866-735-7737 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced attorneys. 

The information in this article is general and not intended to be a substitute for legal advice. In any legal matter you should always consider consulting with an attorney for specific advice.  

Sandra Wisnewski is the Director of Legal Services at Elder Law of Michigan. Sandra has been a staff member of the Elder Law of Michigan team since 2010. As Director of Legal Services, Sandra manages the day-to-day operations of the pension department and helps clients who call for pension assistance.