How the SECURE Act affects inherited IRAs

September 11, 2020

Legislation sets 10-year withdrawal window for nonspouse beneficiaries.

Have there been any changes to how inherited individual retirement accounts (IRAs) must be distributed under the most recent legislation?

Last fall, we wrote an article about inherited individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and how they must be treated and distributed.1 As is the author’s curse, Congress changed the rules as part of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. Under this act, no changes were made to the distribution rules if the person you inherited the account from died prior to January 1, 2020. The new rules only apply if the person died after that date.

Note: Due to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, all required minimum distributions (RMDs) have been suspended for the remainder of 2020. If you already took an RMD from a retirement account, you can roll it back into your account before August 31, 2020.

Previously, if you were a nonspouse beneficiary of an IRA, 401(k), or 403(b) you could distribute the assets from the account 1 of 2 ways. You could distribute the entirety of the account no later than December 31 of the fifth year following the year the account owner died, or you could transfer the money into an inherited IRA and distribute the money incrementally based on your own life expectancy. The second option allowed you to keep the money in the account for years, staying invested on a tax-deferred basis without being forced to take the full balance. The IRS found this undesirable as it prevented them from getting their full share of taxes for many years.

Under the SECURE Act, a nonspouse beneficiary of an IRA must now directly roll over the assets to an inherited IRA and will need to withdraw all assets from the inherited IRA by the end of the 10th year after the year of death. For example, a beneficiary who inherits an IRA during 2020 would have 10 years to distribute the balance of their inherited account beginning on January 1, 2021, the year after the year of death, and ending on December 31, 2030. If the original account was a 401(k) or 403(b), the beneficiary can leave the assets in the plan, if the plan allows it, or roll them into an inherited IRA. Regardless of which scenario the beneficiary chooses, the same 10-year distribution rule will apply.

Forcing distributions to occur in a 10-year window means inheritors will need to carefully plan their distributions. If you wait until the deadline to distribute the full account, it is possible the distribution could be substantial and push you into a higher income tax bracket. Typically, spreading the distributions out over the full 10 years will result in the most favorable tax treatment, but you should consult with your tax professional before doing so.

Exceptions to the 10-year distribution requirement apply to assets left to an eligible designated beneficiary. Eligible designated beneficiaries are those who have a disability or chronic illness, those not more than 10 years younger than the decedent, or minor children of the decedent. These beneficiaries have the option to take RMDs based on their life expectancy.

When an individual inherits an IRA from a spouse, they can roll the assets into an IRA in their own name or transfer the assets into an inherited IRA. If the surviving spouse chooses to roll over the assets into their own IRA, then they would follow the regular RMD rules for their own IRA. These rules require RMDs begin once they reach age 72. If the surviving spouse chooses to transfer the assets into an inherited IRA, the timing of the initial distribution will be based on the decedent’s age at the time of his or her death. If the decedent was older than age 72, the surviving spouse must begin taking RMDs by December 31 of the year following the decedent’s death. If the IRA owner was younger than age 72 at death, the surviving spouse may be able to delay RMDs until the decedent would have turned 72.

If a spouse inherits a 401(k) or 403(b), they can keep the assets in the 401(k) plan (if the plan allows it). If the spouse is still working, they may be able to roll the 401(k) into their own company’s 401(k) if their company plan permits rollovers. As a final option, they can roll over the inherited 401(k) to their own IRA or an inherited IRA. Distributions would then follow the same RMD rules as if the spouse inherited an IRA.

Reference

1. Witz J. Inherited retirement accounts: What are your options? Urology Times®. November 22, 2019. Accessed August 14, 2020. https://www.urologytimes.com/view/inherited-retirement-accounts-what-are-your-options

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