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stretch IRA

What Can I Do Instead of a Stretch IRA?

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Leaving behind a huge tax bill for your heirs with the stretch IRA scuttled? Here are some ways around it as lawmakers consider an updated SECURE Act.

There is a relatively recent and significant new law that significantly limits the ability to have a “Stretch IRA.”

Leaving a large inheritance to loved ones is a dream for some parents. However, without careful planning, heirs may have a large tax bill. When Congress passed the SECURE Act in December 2019, one of the changes was the end of the Stretch IRA, as reported by Kiplinger in a recent article titled “Getting Around the Stretch IRA Block.”

Before the SECURE Act, people who inherited traditional IRAs needed to only take a minimum distribution annually, based on their life expectancy, the money could grow tax-deferred for the rest of their lives. The tax impact was mild because withdrawals could be spread out over many years, giving the new owners control over their taxable income. The rules were the same for an inherited Roth IRA. Distributions were based on the heirs’ life expectancy. Roth IRA heirs had the added benefit of not paying taxes on withdrawals since Roth IRAs are funded with post-tax dollars.

After the SECURE Act, inherited traditional and Roth IRAs must be emptied within ten years or severe penalties will result. Most beneficiaries can wait until the 10th year and drain the account all at once—and end up with a whopping tax bill—or take it out incrementally. However, it has to be emptied within ten years.

There are some exceptions: spouses, disabled or chronically ill individuals, or those not more than ten years younger than the original owner can stretch out the distribution of the IRA funds. If an underage minor inherits a traditional IRA, they can stretch it until they reach legal age. At that point, they have to withdraw all the funds in ten years—from age 18 to 28. Such ages may be premature for a young person to access a large inheritance.

These changes have left many IRA owners looking for alternatives to the Stretch IRA as ways to leave inheritances and find a work-around for their IRAs to protect their beneficiaries from losing their inheritance to taxes or getting their inheritance at a young age.

The solution can be to convert their traditional IRA to a Roth, where the IRA owner pays the taxes instead of the beneficiaries. The strategy is generous and might be more tax-efficient if the conversion is done during retirement when the IRA owner’s income is lower, and they may be in a lower tax bracket. The average person receiving an IRA inheritance is around 50, typically peak earning years and the worst time to inherit a taxable asset.

Another way to avoid the Stretch IRA is life insurance. Distributions from the IRA can be used to pay premiums on a life insurance policy, with beneficiaries receiving death benefits. The proceeds from the policy are tax-free, although the proceeds are considered part of the policy owner’s estate. With the current federal exemption at $12.06 million for individuals, the state estate tax is the only thing most people will need to worry about. If you are healthy enough to get coverage for a reasonable price, the tax savings can be considerable.

A Charitable Remainder Trust can also be used to mimic a stretch IRA. A CRT is an irrevocable split-interest trust, providing income to the grantor and designated beneficiaries for up to twenty years or the beneficiaries’ lifetime. Any remaining assets are donated to charity, which must receive at least 10% of the trust’s initial value.

If the CRT is named as the IRA beneficiary, the IRA funds are distributed to the CRT upon the owner’s death, and the estate gets a charitable estate tax deduction (and not an income tax deduction) for the portion expected to go to the charity.

Assets grow within the charitable trust, paying a set percentage to beneficiaries each year. The distributions are taxable income for the beneficiaries. There are two types of CRTs: Charitable Remainder Unitrust and Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust. An estate planning attorney will know which one is best suited for your family.

For those with large amounts in an IRA, these strategies can provide the retirement benefits many hoped to achieve before the Stretch IRA was cut from under them.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 3, 2022) “Getting Around the Stretch IRA Block”