When Must Summary Plan Descriptions and Summaries of Material Modifications Be Distributed?

All employee benefit plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (“ERISA”) must distribute summary plan descriptions (“SPDs”), which describe the material provisions of the employee benefit plan, and summaries of material modifications (“SMMs”), which describe any material changes to plan provisions. These documents must be distributed to participants and beneficiaries within certain time periods following specified events:


SPDs must be provided:

  • Within 120 days of a plan first becoming subject to ERISA

  • Within 90 days of a participant’s enrollment in an employee benefit plan

  • If there have been material changes, in updated form(incorporating all SMMs that have been issued in the interim) within 210 days after the end of the fifth plan year following the plan year for which the most recently fully updated SPD was issued

  • Every 10 years if no material changes have occurred during that time

  • Within 30 days of a written request of a participant or beneficiary

SMMs must be provided:

  • Within 210 days after the end of the plan year in which a material modification is effective. Whether a modification is material is determined on a facts-and-circumstances basis

  • In conjunction with the most recent SPD until such time as the SPD has been revised to incorporate the information in the SMMs.

Special Rules for Group Health Plans

  • An SMM for any material reduction in group health benefits must be provided within 60 days after the effective date of a material reduction in covered services or benefits provided under a group health plan

  • A notice of material modifications for any mid-year change to the information contained in the most recent summary of benefits and coverage (“SBC”) must be provided within 60 days before the effective date of the change. Note that a material modification that will be effective upon the beginning of the next plan year is not required to be given within this time frame. This means that upcoming changes disclosed during open enrollment do not need to be provided at least 60 days prior to the beginning of the plan year.

While these are the legally-required deadlines for providing SPDs and SMMs, in most cases it is necessary from an administrative or employee-relations standpoint to provide these disclosures within a shorter timeframe.


The Department of Labor (“DOL”) has specific criteria for electronic distribution of these documents, including consent and notification requirements.


© Boutwell Fay LLP 2019, All Rights Reserved.This handout is for information purposes only, and may constitute attorney advertising. It should not be construed as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you have questions or would like our advice with respect to any of this information, please contact us.The information contained in this article is effective as of September30, 2019.


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