How Long Does It Take to Get a Pension If You're a Beneficiary?

Commencement of benefits for beneficiaries can be critical; fortunately, federal law imposes a deadline.
Commencement of benefits for beneficiaries can be critical; fortunately, federal law imposes a deadline. (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

The beneficiary of a pension commences receipt when the pensioner passes away. This is not only an extremely difficult time emotionally as the beneficiary mourns the loss of the pensioner, but it can also create difficult financial situations. There are no standard answers with respect to the timing of pension distributions as the timing varies widely by pension plan; however, there is a deadline which pension plans must respond to your claim for benefits.

Employee Retirement Income Security Act, ERISA, Deadline

Under federal law -- the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, ERISA of 1974 -- a pension plan must approve or deny your claim for pension benefits within 90 days of the date you file your claim. However, a plan may receive an automatic extension of an additional 90 days in the event a decision cannot be reached within the initial 90 days. To receive the extension, the plan must provide the beneficiary notice within the initial 90-day decision period providing an explanation of why more time is needed and when you may be able to expect a decision.

Payment Following an Approved Claim

If your claim for benefits was approved, the timing of the payment will vary by plan. Each plan has protocol that must be followed to receive benefits. If your claim was approved and you did not receive your benefit, you should contact the plan administrator to ensure that they have the correct address and other information on file.

Appealing a Denied Claim

If, for some reason, the pension plan denied your claim for benefits, you must have at least 60 days to appeal the denial. Some plans may have longer periods to appeal claim denials. It is imperative that you review the plan document to understand the rules of the specific plan from which you are seeking benefits as a beneficiary.


You should keep copies of all correspondence that you make with the pension plan. This way there can be no debate as to the date upon which you made a claim. If a plan does not reply to your claim for benefits within the first 90 days from the date you applied, you may seek an action in federal court or you may contact the Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration.

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