Most people use their IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) for retirement income. However, a lucky group find themselves not needing the money from their IRA accounts. Instead, the assets become part of a legacy that they leave to heirs. That is why most IRA accounts include the name of a beneficiary who could inherit these accounts, when the owner passes away, reports the Oakdale Leader in the article “Leaving An IRA As An Inheritance.”

If no beneficiary is named, things can get complicated for both the estate and the heirs. If the IRA has a named beneficiary, but the will names someone else to receive the IRA, the beneficiary named in the IRA is the one who receives the asset. The named beneficiary in any account and especially an IRA, supersedes the will, in almost every instance.

Anytime there is a significant event, often called a “trigger” event, like a divorce, marriage or birth, the estate plan and all accounts with named beneficiaries should be reviewed. This is to ensure that the assets go where the owner wants them, and not to an unintended heir, like an ex-spouse.

There are special rules for spouses, where IRAs are concerned. Married couples typically name each other as beneficiaries on their IRAs. A surviving spouse has certain decisions to make when inheriting an IRA. The IRA may be rolled over into a new or existing IRA in the spouse’s own name. Taking this route depends upon the age of the spouse and the need for the money.

Sometimes, it is appropriate to name a trust as a beneficiary of an IRA. However, you must be careful that your trust will qualify as a “designated beneficiary trust” to avoid negative tax consequences if naming it as a beneficiary. Typically naming a trust as a beneficiary is needed when you want to leave an IRA to a minor child, someone with disabilities, or if you want to restrict or control the distributions to your beneficiaries.

To maximize the growth of the IRA, children or grandchildren can be named as IRA beneficiaries. They will need to start taking annual Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) immediately, and the distributions will be taxable. However, the amount of the RMD will be based on their anticipated lifetimes, so the taxable distributions will be relatively small. The money in the account will have many years to grow.

When children or grandchildren are named as contingent beneficiaries, a surviving spouse has the option to disclaim the IRA, which allows the children or grandchildren to inherit the IRA and enjoy the tax-free years of growth.

Reference: Oakdale Leader (February 19, 2019) “Leaving An IRA As An Inheritance”

Suggested Key Terms: Individual Retirement Account, Required Minimum Distributions, RMDs, Beneficiaries, Roth IRA, Surviving Spouse, Charitable Giving, Inherited IRA, Heirs

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