Is the Trustee the Same as the Fiduciary of an Employee Ownership Plan?

In most cases, the trustee is the fiduciary, but the two functions are not necessarily the same. Plans must designate who the fiduciary is; they can designate this for all issues or have different fiduciaries for particular issues. A fiduciary is anyone who makes decisions about plan operations, including its management or the disposition of its assets. Fiduciaries can also be people who render investment advice for a fee. Thus, a directed trustee is not acting as a fiduciary because it is not making the decision. (Nonetheless, a directed trustee still must confirm that any directions received are consistent with the plan documents and ERISA; if they are not, the trustee should inform the fiduciary and work to create a decision that complies with these guidelines). Similarly, on any particular issue, the trustee may cede decision making to someone else or share it with someone else. It is important to recognize that even though someone may not be named as a fiduciary, that person could act as a fiduciary, and have the legal responsibility of a fiduciary by effectively making a decision with regard to plan operations that comes under fiduciary responsibilities.

Source: National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO)

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