I’ve Just Inherited a Beneficiary IRA – Now What?

I’ve Just Inherited a Beneficiary IRA – Now What?

Inheriting an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) can be a bittersweet moment, often intertwining the grief of losing a loved one with the unexpected responsibility of managing a substantial financial asset. If you’re reading this, likely, you’ve recently found yourself in this exact situation, having inherited a Beneficiary IRA. 

This article will serve as a guide to help you understand the various regulations, tax implications, and strategic considerations associated with your newly inherited Beneficiary IRA. 

By the end of this post, our goal is for you to feel more comfortable and informed about your options and the steps to take next. Let’s dive in.

What is a Beneficiary IRA?

A Beneficiary Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is a unique retirement savings account designed to transfer wealth upon the original account holder’s death effectively. As the name suggests, the account holder does not open a Beneficiary IRA. Rather, it is created when a deceased individual’s IRA assets are transferred to a named beneficiary. This beneficiary could be a spouse, child, or any other individual or entity designated by the original account owner.

The primary function of a Beneficiary IRA is to provide a continuation of the tax-deferred growth experienced in the original IRA. It allows the beneficiaries to extend the tax-deferred status of these retirement assets, potentially over their lifetime.

Beneficiary IRA versus Traditional IRA: Highlighting the Difference

While the Beneficiary and traditional IRA may appear similar in some respects, they are fundamentally different. Let’s explore this in more detail.

Traditional IRAs

A traditional IRA is an account an individual can open to save for retirement, with contributions often tax-deductible and earnings growing tax-deferred until withdrawal. 

The IRS imposes certain withdrawal rules, including penalties for distributions before age 59.5 and required minimum distributions (RMDs) after 73.

Beneficiary IRAs

A Beneficiary IRA is created upon the original account owner’s death, with the assets being transferred to the designated beneficiary. The tax rules and distribution regulations for a Beneficiary IRA are dictated by the beneficiary’s relationship to the deceased and the deceased’s age at the time of death. 

This includes the possibility of taking RMDs regardless of the beneficiary’s age, which is markedly different from a traditional IRA’s rules. It is paramount to understand these differences to manage and leverage these accounts for long-term financial benefit effectively.

The Impact of the Secure Act on Beneficiary IRAs

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement SECURE Act, enacted on December 20, 2019, significantly altered how individuals save and plan for retirement. These changes, many intended to stimulate retirement savings, also substantially modified the rules governing inherited Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). 

Both traditional IRA account owners and Beneficiary IRA owners need to understand how the SECURE Act may impact your retirement planning strategies. 

“Stretch IRA”

One of the most significant changes introduced by the SECURE Act to Beneficiary IRAs was eliminating the “Stretch IRA” strategy. Before the SECURE Act, non-spouse beneficiaries of an IRA could ‘stretch’ the required minimum distributions (RMDs) from the inherited IRA over their lifetimes, allowing the IRA’s assets to grow tax-deferred for potentially decades. However, the SECURE Act ended this practice, imposing a more accelerated distribution schedule.

“10-Year Rule”

Another crucial change is introducing the 10-year rule for most non-spouse beneficiaries. Under the new rules, these beneficiaries must withdraw all assets from an inherited IRA within ten years of the original account owner’s death. This rule can accelerate the tax burden for beneficiaries, potentially pushing them into higher tax brackets.

There are, however, exceptions to the 10-year rule. These exceptions apply to so-called “eligible designated beneficiaries,” which include the surviving spouse, minor children of the deceased (but not grandchildren), disabled or chronically ill individuals, and beneficiaries who are not more than ten years younger than the deceased.

Let’s consider an example to illustrate the impact of these changes. Assume a middle-aged beneficiary inherits a $1 million IRA. Under the previous rules, they could have taken distributions over their expected lifetime, say 30 years, equating to roughly $33,000 per year. 

This could keep them in a lower tax bracket. Under the new 10-year rule, however, they must withdraw all funds within a decade. If they chose to spread out the distributions evenly, this would mean withdrawing $100,000 per year, which could push them into a higher tax bracket and result in a more substantial tax bill.

Understanding these changes is fundamental to efficient retirement planning. Beneficiaries should consult with an experienced financial advisor or retirement planning specialist to navigate the new regulations introduced by the SECURE Act to create retirement and tax planning strategies that can help to minimize tax liabilities while preserving the value of the inherited assets.

Distribution Limits

If you have inherited or plan on receiving a Beneficiary IRA, you need to understand the concept of distribution limits. These limits dictate the minimum amount to be withdrawn from the IRA each year. 

They are designed to ensure that the tax benefits of these accounts do not extend indefinitely and that the money within them is eventually subjected to taxation. These rules have undergone significant changes in recent years, specifically with the passage of the Secure Act in 2019, which altered the period over which these distributions must occur.

Detailed Breakdown of the 2023 Distribution Limits

In 2023, the distribution rules for most Beneficiary IRAs are guided by the 10-year rule, per the Secure Act. 

With some exceptions, beneficiaries must no longer take out a specific amount each year. Instead, they are obligated to deplete the entire balance of the IRA by the end of the 10th year after the original account owner’s death. 

This rule applies regardless of the size of the IRA, meaning as a beneficiary, you have flexibility regarding when you take distributions within that 10-year window. However, failing to meet the 10-year deadline may result in substantial penalties, which can amount to 50% of the funds that should have been withdrawn.

How These Limits Might Affect Your Withdrawal Strategy

The current distribution limits may have significant implications for your withdrawal strategy. Because you must empty the account within a decade, carefully planning your withdrawals to mitigate potential tax implications is crucial. Large distributions may push you into a higher tax bracket, leading to more of your inherited wealth being consumed by taxes. 

A more measured approach, spreading distributions evenly over the 10 years or timing withdrawals with years of lower personal income, may help manage your tax liabilities. The optimal strategy will depend on your financial situation and future income prospects.

Options for Managing an Inherited IRA

One option for managing an inherited IRA is to take a lump-sum distribution. This means withdrawing all the funds in the IRA at once. While this approach could provide immediate liquidity and satisfy the 10-year rule, it’s important to consider the potential tax implications. A large lump-sum withdrawal could place you in a higher tax bracket, leading to a significant tax hit. Talk with your retirement planning specialist. 

Alternatively, you can spread out distributions over the 10-year limit. This approach could benefit from a tax perspective, allowing you to remain in a lower tax bracket by spreading the income over a decade. However, this strategy requires careful planning and discipline to withdraw all funds by the tenth year’s end.

Sometimes, it may make sense to disclaim the IRA or legally refuse the inheritance. This might be the case if you don’t need the funds or if accepting the inheritance would result in negative tax consequences. If you disclaim the IRA, it will pass to the next beneficiary.

When choosing among these options, it’s crucial to consider your personal financial needs, tax implications, and long-term financial goals. A tax planning advisor can help you navigate these decisions and choose the option that makes the most sense for your circumstances. Remember, the goal is to satisfy the distribution rules and maximize your financial well-being and align with your broader financial plan.


More About the Author: Randy Takaki

Prior to founding TAKWEALTH, Randy Takaki graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a B.S. in Artificial Intelligence. He then spent over a decade as a senior advisor and AI contributor in the data-driven world of asset management. Randy’s main goal for TAKWEALTH clients is to build trust by creating a foundation that reliably and uniquely manages a client’s assets to meet their life goals. When Randy is not working hard for clients at TAKWEALTH, you can find him exploring the outdoors or planning his next computer science project.