401k, come out, come out, wherever you are!
May 12, 2012 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Grandpa died and left my mother his 401k. We can't find the money and the companies he's worked for can't seem to help. Are we missing something in our search?

My mother's father died in 2009, while living with my parents. He had repeatedly told my mother that he had made her the beneficiary of his 401k from the last company he was employed with and gave her a few bits of paper relating to said 401k.

So Papa died and Mom pulled out the papers. She called the company that held the 401k, which was Ampac Tire and we're pretty sure that Pops worked for a company called Progressive Tire Distribution, which was probably a subsidiary or such. She got a hold of a woman who, after much wrangling, sent my mother a form, which turned out to be a "Notice of Whitholding on Distributions From Pension, Profit-Sharing, Stock Bonus, and Other Qualified Plans". The woman requested a death certificate be returned with the form, which my mother mailed right along. This was a year ago and my mother has heard nothing. She's tried phoning the woman repeatedly and cannot get an answer or call back. I've attempted serious Google-fu to solve the issue but am coming up empty-handed. Thing is, there IS most certainly money in this 401k. We just have to find it.

I told my dear Moms I'd put the question to AskMefi.

Ampac seems to have been acquired by American Tire Distributors but when we called, they were actually confused as to who Ampac was and said they could not help.

What are our options here? Is there somewhere/someone to call that might be able to help? Currently, this money is languishing somewhere and with the scant paperwork we have, we've really got little to go on. Is there anything to be done that we're not thinking of?
posted by youandiandaflame to Grab Bag (13 answers total)
I wonder if the state unclaimed property office would have it by now? It's certainly worth a check.

California's page is here, for example.
posted by nat at 11:37 AM on May 12, 2012

Here is a little on Ampac Tire's 401k with phone numbers and contact names. They seem to be their own plan administrator which is a bummer because it can be easier to deal with a qualified plan administrator company in complicated situations.
posted by cecic at 11:47 AM on May 12, 2012

Cecic: That is awesome! Buuuuuuuut unfortunately, those numbers do not go where they should as one is now a personal phone number and the other goes to a company in no way affiliated with AmPac :(.

Any other suggestions?
posted by youandiandaflame at 12:12 PM on May 12, 2012

Via cecic's link: "The plan administrator, Am-Pac Tire Distributors, Inc., can be reached at (214) 748-3647. The plan sponsor, Laurie C. Heavner, can be reached at (704) 632-7110."

The 214 number is suspect. [On preview: that must be the personal phone number.] But the 704 area code on the other number matches the NC location. I'd ring up Ms. Heavner Monday morning pronto. [On preview: if that number is not right, just call the company at 704-992-2000 and camp on the line until they give you either Ms. Heavner or the current HR director or benefits administrator. Worst case, go to the top. Same name and phone is listed here. Am-Pac was aquired by American Tire Distributors in 2008. Am-Pac seems no longer to have a corporate identity of its own, which explains why people you called were confused. But, Heavner is VP, Human Resources, and should know about the plan. When you speak with her refer to the Am-Pac plan for which she is listed as admin.

It is probably too soon for this to have gone to the unclaimed property office. However it does seem odd that the plan was not sending out periodic statements to his address, which was also your mother's address, even after he died. So is it possible he never gave an address change to the adminstrator when he moved in with your mother? It's also possible that he cashed out the account at some point. So be prepared that there may not be anything there — but if that's what you are told, request an accounting of how grandpa's account was terminated. If he did cash out, it's possible that he rolled the money over into an IRA, in which case Am-Pac/American Tire would probably not know where it went, but they would be able to give you an amount and date of distribution. In any case, if the admin tells you he cashed out, unclaimed property office is probably your next stop. You can search most states online — but follow up with phone calls because the online DB is not always up to date. You may have to try NC as well as whatever states he lived in along the way.
posted by beagle at 12:23 PM on May 12, 2012

I would contact either HR or their General Counsel, with the concern that the 401k has gone missing -- the decedent has not received any notices about his money in how long? Nothing in the mail, no response to the form you sent with the death certificate, no response to follow-up calls. You are worried that a slight mistake might be misunderstood as something less savory, and want to take this one last opportunity to understand the issue and have it resolved before you contact the US Dept. of Labor (per SMPA's link) for an investigation, and the IRS for their records.

I would probably contact American Tire Distributors via registered mail, and include a deadline in the letter (say, 10 calendar days for a response).

I think it's likely the IRS has some sort of records about all of this -- the plan, your grandfather's disbursements from the plan, whether the plan still exists, and so on.
posted by Houstonian at 12:46 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Lawyer. Lawyer, lawyer, lawyer. A nice solid letter from a legal firm often works wonders.
posted by easily confused at 12:55 PM on May 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

The IRS doesn't keep records on 401K plan assets. Benefit plans do file annual reports with the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) — that's the Form 5500 which is available via one of the above plan detail links, or from the PBGC, or from the plan administrator. But plans DO NOT report to the feds any records of individual accounts within the plan. 401K contributions are reported to the IRS on your W2 form, but you're not going to pry even that info from them, plus they would have no way to know about balances.

Before you jump to registered letters and lawyers, just call HR at American Tire Distributors, ask for Heavner or the benefits administrator, be nice, don't be threatening, and you'll make progress. Whoever you spoke with there before (the confused one) was obviously not the right person.
posted by beagle at 2:06 PM on May 12, 2012

Yeah, just hire a lawyer. They'll get much better results, much faster than you'll be able to. Even if that result is "Look, the money was never there to begin with," you'd rather know that than spend the next few years messing about with HR drones.
posted by valkyryn at 3:36 PM on May 12, 2012

Yeah, just hire a lawyer.

Sorry, but I'm going to repeat what I said before: Before you jump to registered letters and lawyers, just call HR at American Tire Distributors, ask for Heavner or the benefits administrator, be nice, don't be threatening, and you'll make progress. Whoever you spoke with there before (the confused one) was obviously not the right person.

You don't need a lawyer, yet. If the money's really there, as you seem to be convinced, making a direct approach to the right person is going to get the wheels moving. You can pay a lawyer to do that for you if you want to, but this is not a capital case. You just need to smile, dial and communicate.
posted by beagle at 5:04 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

My pensions actuary husband agrees that the place to go is the Department of Labor, per SMPA. They should step in to advocate for your mother -- it's exactly the sort of thing they're there for.
posted by Andrhia at 6:44 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree that it's too early for a lawyer -- no sense diminishing that inheritance before you know you need to. This is much more a matter of lost paperwork and bureaucratic inertia than fraud, and admittedly for you it hasn't been a priority.

Being a beneficiary of an account or other asset essentially means there is an existing legal obligation for them to service your mother as their customer and get her the money. They may be confused, disorganized, or many other things, but they are pretty unlikely to be wilfully withholding money from you. It's just that you'll have to do the legwork to get to the right person.
posted by dhartung at 1:03 AM on May 13, 2012

Late to this, but - I used to work in customer service for a disorganized company that managed 401ks, though not this one. I've dealt with basically this exact situation from the other end.

I don't think it's time to lawyer up yet.

The thing is that the 401k plan might have been called Ampac Tire Distributors, Inc. 401K Plan and managed by, say, Fidelity 401k, then they switched to, I don't know, Schwab 401k but it was still called Ampac Tire Distributors, Inc. 401K Plan, so from the outside it would be hard to tell. Then a form Mom might have filled out for Fidelity wouldn't be accepted by Schwab.

Also, when I was in customer service at a company like this, every week I received dozens of forms in horrible fax or scan quality, obscuring any way I might have of contacting the customer to let them know to resubmit it. If this happened it could have easily been never followed up on, though it doesn't explain why the phone numbers are wrong the way switching providers would.

The thing is that it would be unusual for Ampac to manage the 401k themselves. It can be confusing because to "administer" a 401k plan is totally different. All of my former employer's clients "administered" their own plans, but we managed them (trading, financial advising, etc). There would at the least be some financial advisor involved. This is who you need to find. This is who would suffer legally if Mom doesn't get the money. (401k companies are required to check occasionally if there are people who should be getting distributions, and track them down if they can.)

I would try to find out what company is / was actually managing the plan and go from there. Is that contact info you and cecic found just for the 401k plan? Because if you can find Ampac's HR / benefits department, they MUST know who is / was managing the 401k.

It's sort of weird though that Mom hasn't been receiving statements from them. Some 401k plans have a time limit and you have to get your distribution within that time limit. After that, the company cannot, of course, just keep your money, so it's rolled over to an IRA that they set up for you (so it would be in Grandpa's name). That could explain the lack of statements and response. But, once again, if you find the company actually managing the plan, they will have record of that IRA.
posted by fireflies at 2:05 PM on May 15, 2012

« Older Katahdin Day Hike Trail Route?   |   I'll trade you 2 gushers for the rest of your... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.