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Just Inherited an IRA?

Stacia Miller

Director of Financial Education

Last Updated
April 20, 2022

Do These 4 Things Now

The IRS has unique rules in place for those who inherit an IRA following the original owner’s death. If these rules aren’t properly followed, they can lead to big tax consequences for the beneficiary. Here’s what you need to do if you inherit an IRA.

#1 – Understand your options.

One straightforward rule that applies to all beneficiaries is that the tax treatment of the IRA remains the same from the original account to the inherited IRA. Traditional IRAs are treated as pre-tax accounts, and Roth IRAs are treated as after-tax accounts. Other than that, the tax rules for these accounts vary based on the type of beneficiary you are.

  • Spousal beneficiaries – A spouse who inherits an IRA typically has three options:
    • Elect to be treated as the owner of the IRA – By doing so, you are viewed by the IRS as if you were the owner of the account all along. Only spousal beneficiaries have this option
    • Roll over the inherited IRA funds into an existing retirement account
    • Elect to be treated as a beneficiary
  • Non-spousal beneficiaries – Non-spousal beneficiaries do not have the option of treating a traditional IRA account as their own. No contributions can be made to the account, and funds cannot be rolled into or out of the IRA.

However, non-spousal beneficiaries are permitted to make a trustee-to-trustee transfer of IRA funds into an inherited IRA as long as the new account is established and maintained in the name of the deceased IRA owner for the sake of the beneficiary. For example, the account would be titled (Name of Deceased Owner) for the benefit of (Your Name).

#2 – Follow the rules for distributions.

The Secure Act, which was signed into law in December 2019, requires that IRA beneficiaries distribute all account assets within 10 years of the account owner’s death (for IRAs inherited after December 31, 2019). There are no requirements for when within that 10-year period the money must be withdrawn. You can take it all out at once or take smaller withdrawals over time.

There are a few exceptions to the 10-year rule for the following beneficiaries:

  • Spousal beneficiary – If you chose to treat the IRA as your own, you must begin taking RMDs from a traditional IRA when you reach age 72. You do not need to take any withdrawals from a Roth IRA.
  • Minor children – Minor children must take distributions based on their life expectancies until they reach age 18. At that time, the minor beneficiary must withdraw the entire account balance within 10 years.
  • Chronically ill or disabled – These beneficiaries may stretch out IRA distributions over their lifetime.
  • Those who are not more than 10 years younger than the account owner – These beneficiaries may stretch out IRA distributions over their lifetime.

#3 – Be aware of the five-year rule.

If you inherit a Roth IRA, you can withdraw contributions tax-free at any time. However, earnings may be taxable if the Roth IRA was less than five years old at the time of the original owner’s death. In this case, you’ll owe taxes on any earnings you withdraw. If the account was open for at least five years at the time of the owner’s death, earnings can be withdrawn tax free.

#4 – Talk with your wealth manager.

As with many financial decisions, there are potential tax consequences or missed opportunities when you make an uninformed decision regarding an inherited IRA. Before taking action, consult with your wealth manager, who will help ensure any decisions make sense in light of your overall financial situation and goals for the future.

If you don’t have a wealth manager, we can help. Our experienced professionals work with clients to navigate a wide range of financial challenges and can help you make decisions that are in your best interests at all times. Contact us to learn more.

For more information about beneficiary or inherited IRAs, visit IRS.gov.

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This commentary is provided for general information purposes only and should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice, and does not constitute an attorney/client relationship. Past performance of any market results is no assurance of future performance. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources deemed reliable but is not guaranteed.

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