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Inherited IRAs

Inherited IRAs Require Careful Handling

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One wrong decision can lead to expensive consequences, and good luck trying to persuade the IRS to give you a do-over.

For those who inherit IRAs, the intersection of taxes, estate law, and financial planning can be a tricky place. There are many choices, maybe too many, and making the wrong choice can be costly, according to the recent article “6 inherited IRA rules all beneficiaries must know” from Bankrate.

There are two categories of beneficiaries. One set of rules applies to surviving spouses, minor children, chronically ill or disabled individuals, or someone who is not less than 10 years younger than the original owner. Everyone else has another set of rules.

You’ll need to know if the original owner had taken any RMDs—required minimum distributions—before they died.

Did you want to minimize taxes, or is it more important for you to maximize cash distribution?

These are just a few of the issues to be addressed. Already complicated, inherited IRAs got even more complicated because of the SECURE Act, which changed some longstanding practices. Some experts tell beneficiaries not to do anything until they meet with an estate planning attorney. The worst thing someone could do is make a wrong step and lose half of the IRA to taxes.

Here are the six rules for inherited IRAs:

1–Spouses have the most flexibility. The surviving spouse may treat the IRA as her own, naming herself as the owner. She can also roll it over into another account, such as another IRA or a qualified employer plan (including 403(b) plans). She could also treat herself as the beneficiary of the plan. However, each choice leads to further choices and decisions. She might let the IRA grow in the account until she reaches age 72, the new age for RMDs. Or she can roll the IRA into an IRA of her own, which lets her then name her own beneficiary.

2—When do you want to take the money? If you fall into the category of surviving spouses, minor children, chronically ill or disabled individuals, or someone who is not less than ten years younger than the original owner, then you can take the distributions over your own life expectancy. That’s the “stretch” option. Otherwise, you need to take distributions from the account over ten years, according to the SECURE Act. Depending on the size of the IRA, that could lead to a nasty tax bill. You can take as little or as much as you want, but by year ten after the owner’s death, the account must be empty.

3—Know about year of death required distributions. If the owner of the IRA did not take his RMD in the year of his death, beneficiaries are required to do so. If a parent dies in early January, for example, it’s not likely he took his RMD. The IRS doesn’t care if you didn’t know—you’ll be liable for a penalty of 50% of the amount that wasn’t taken out. If someone dies close to the end of the year, it’s possible that heirs might not know about the accounts until after the deadline has passed. If the deceased was not yet 70½, there is no-year-of-death distribution.

4—Get all the breaks you can—tax breaks. For estates subject to the estate tax, IRA beneficiaries will get an income-tax deduction for estate taxes paid on the account. The taxable income earned but not received by the deceased is called “income in respect of a decedent.” When someone takes a distribution from an IRA, it’s treated as taxable income. However, the decedent’s estate is paying a federal estate tax, so beneficiaries get an income-tax deduction for estate taxes paid on the IRA. For a $1 million income in an inherited IRA, there could be a $350,000 deduction offset against that.

5—Beneficiary forms matter. An entire estate plan can be undone by a missing beneficiary form, one that is not filled out correctly, or on that is ambiguous. If there is no designated beneficiary form and the account goes to the estate, the beneficiary will need to take the distribution from the IRA in five years. Forms that aren’t updated, are missing, or don’t clearly identify the individuals create all kinds of expensive headaches.

6—Improperly drafted trusts are trouble. If they are done wrong, a trust can limit beneficiary options in a big way. If the provisions in the trust are not properly drafted, some custodians won’t be able to see through the trust to determine the qualified beneficiaries. Any ability to maximize the time to take money out of an IRA could be lost. An experienced estate planning attorney who knows the rules about inherited IRAs and trusts is a must.

Reference: Bankrate (July 17, 2020) “6 inherited IRA rules all beneficiaries must know”