Top of Mind

“Hell’s Kitchen” Plan Document Mistakes

My latest binge-watch is Hell's Kitchen, a reality show in which super-chef hopefuls are put through a cooking boot camp of sorts, with well-know chef (and yeller) Gordon Ramsay as their drill instructor.  And yes, I am fully aware that retirement plan expertise does not necessarily translate into TV-viewing expertise.

Now, the vast majority of contestants have professional cooking experience, so most of the results are good, with minor errors along the lines of slightly undercooked rice in a risotto or lack of seasoning. However, on all too frequent occasions, the chefs commit stupefying bad gaffes, such as serving raw pork, butchering pancakes (pancakes!), or cooking fish with the paper still attached!

How could experienced food service personnel commit such rookie mistakes?  If you watch the show, it is actually easy to understand.  The show creates meal service environments that are crazily hectic.  Normally exemplary chefs make egregious errors, simply due to the time pressures (and a constantly-yelling boss!).  Also, the competitive environment causes some chefs to over-think situations and forget the basics.

As I watched, I thought about the parallels between the chefs and my retirement plan sponsor clients.  The individuals who work for my client organizations are some of the busiest and most intelligent people I know (and no, I am not just saying that because they’re reading this!). However, I have witnessed more than a few plan sponsors make some head-scratching mistakes, particularly with respect to plan documents.  Why?  Because, while their work environment may not be quite as challenging as Hell’s Kitchen, it is hectic enough to cause mistakes, such as:

  • That’s an excellent plan document; too bad it is not signed! The plan document equivalent of serving raw pork; I have seen this mistake more times than I can count, and most counsel with whom I have worked have seen it as well.  The root of the problem?  Plan sponsors spend so much time and effort crafting the perfect plan document that when they finally get to the finish line, they overlook the basics and neglect to follow through on the document’s execution, which can put all that hard work in jeopardy.
  • The perfect plan document was created and signed, but wasn’t shared with the recordkeeper(s) - you know, the people who actually administer the plan document?  – Recordkeepers commit many operational errors, but a good portion of those are not entirely their fault.  Sometimes, they administer provisions that they thought were part of the plan, only to find out that the latest version of the plan document was not shared with them.  In fact, I request copies of plan documents from recordkeepers all of the time, and I often find that they are not up-to-date, sometimes by even more than a decade!  Admittedly, this happens more often when the document is not a vendor prototype, but I have witnessed occasions where the recordkeeper did not possess the latest version of its own document!  And, of course, in the world of recordkeeping it is “garbage in, garbage out” in terms of administering erroneous plan provisions.

The good news is that we, as an advisory firm, often catch these errors before they become major issues.  And hopefully, your trusted advisor does as well.

Do you have any plan document horror stories that you wish to share?  Hit me up on Twitter or at  

Note: This feature is to provide general information only, does not constitute legal advice, and cannot be used or substituted for legal or tax advice.

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