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The following is an overview of the options available to an IRA beneficiary. Depending on the type of IRA, whether or not the IRA beneficiary is the spouse of the deceased IRA owner and the IRA beneficiary’s needs and objectives, different options may be appropriate. 

In order to avoid unforeseen and/or negative tax consequences, an IRA beneficiary should seek professional tax advice before selecting an option.

 Inherited Traditional IRA Options: 

The options available to an individual who inherits a traditional IRA include the following: 

  1. Immediate Lump-Sum Distribution: Surrender the inherited IRA and receive the entire value in a lump sum. The taxable value of the IRA is then included in the beneficiary’s income in the year of surrender.
  2. Distributions Over Five Years: If the IRA owner was under age 70-1/2 at death, the beneficiary can take any amounts from the inherited IRA, so long as all of the funds are distributed by December 31 of the year containing the fifth anniversary of the original IRA owner’s death. This option is not available if the IRA owner was over age 70-1/2 at death.
  3. Life Expectancy: The IRA assets are transferred to an inherited IRA in the beneficiary’s name, where the date by which required minimum distributions must begin depends on whether or not the beneficiary is the surviving spouse and by the IRA owner’s age at the time of death.
  4.  Spousal  Transfer:    Under this option available only to surviving spouses who are the sole IRA beneficiary, the spouse beneficiary treats the inherited IRA as his/her own and the IRA assets continue to grow tax-deferred. IRA distribution rules are then based on the spouse’s age, meaning that distributions may not be available prior to the spouse’s age 59-1/2 without paying a penalty tax and required minimum distributions must begin by the spouse’s age 70-1/2.

For spouse beneficiaries: 

    • If the deceased spouse was younger than age 70-1/2 at the time of death, the surviving spouse may delay required minimum distributions until the year in which the deceased spouse would have reached age 70-1/2.
    • If the deceased spouse was older than age 70-1/2 at the time of death, the surviving spouse must begin taking required minimum distributions by December 31 of the year following the spouse’s death.

 For non-spouse beneficiaries:

    • Required minimum distributions from the inherited IRA can be spread over the non-spouse beneficiary’s life expectancy, with the first payment required to begin no later than December 31 of the year following the year of the IRA owner’s death.

 

Inherited Roth IRA Options:

 The options available to an individual who inherits a Roth IRA include the following: 

  1. Immediate Lump-Sum Distribution:  Surrender the inherited Roth IRA and receive the entire value in a lump sum. The earnings, however, may be taxable if the Roth IRA is not at least five years old.
  2. Distributions Over Five Years: The beneficiary can take any amounts from the inherited Roth IRA, so long as all of the funds are distributed by December 31 of the year containing the fifth anniversary of the original Roth IRA owner’s death. Any earnings distributed before the Roth IRA is at least five years old, however, may be taxable. Since all amounts other than earnings can first be withdrawn tax free, it may be possible to minimize or eliminate any taxation on earnings by withdrawing them last.
  3. Life Expectancy: The IRA assets are transferred to an inherited IRA in the beneficiary’s name. For non-spouse beneficiaries, required minimum distributions based on the beneficiary’s life expectancy must begin no later than December 31 of the year following the year of the deceased Roth IRA owner’s death. For a spouse who is the sole IRA beneficiary, required minimum distributions may be postponed until the year in which the deceased Roth IRA owner would have reached age 70-1/2. Since contributions are considered to be withdrawn first, it’s unlikely that any taxable distribution of earnings will take place if the Roth IRA hasn’t been in existence for five years.
  4.  Spousal Transfer: Under this option available only to surviving spouses who are the sole Roth IRA beneficiary, the spouse beneficiary treats the Roth IRA as his/her own. Roth IRA distribution rules are then based on the spouse’s age, meaning that distributions of earnings may not be available prior to the spouse’s age 59-1/2 without tax or penalty. Since Roth IRAs have no required beginning date and no required minimum distributions, the spouse can leave the money in the Roth IRA as long as he/she wants.

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