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4 Steps to Take When You Inherit an IRA


As the population in the U.S. grows older, it is becoming increasingly common for individuals to inherit retirement accounts from their family members or friends. However, it's important that as an heir to such accounts you follow particular steps in order to avoid making costly mistakes.

There are several options to handling inherited accounts, which depend on a variety of factors including your relationship to the original account holder, the age of the original account holder when they passed away and the type of account you’ve inherited. Here are four crucial steps to follow to increase your benefits in the long run:

Step 1: Title the New IRA

Once you inherit an IRA, you’ll want to make sure it’s set up correctly. An inherited IRA should have the name of the deceased original owner and it should also indicate that the IRA was inherited. Alternatively, if the deceased was a spouse you have the option to roll over the amount of the inherited IRA into your account. Keep in mind that if you transfer any distributed money to a new account in your name, you must do so within 60 days.1

If you’ve inherited an IRA from someone other than a spouse, you will not be able to move money into your own retirement account. In order to keep the tax benefits of the inherited account, you will need to set up a new Inherited IRA for Benefit under your name.2 After the account has been created, you’ll be able to transfer assets from the original account to your beneficiary IRA.

Step 2: Calculating the Right Distribution Amount

The prior year-end account value and life expectancy are needed to calculate the distribution amount on your inherited IRA. For this calculation, the value of the account from the last year is used. For example, in order to calculate distributions for the year 2019, the account value on December 31, 2018, is used.

Life expectancy is also important and if the heir is not a spouse they can use the Single Life Expectancy Table. However, this can only be done once and each year after that the heir can deduct one from the previous year’s factor.3

Step 3: Determine If the IRA Has an After-Tax Basis

Most beneficiaries are either unaware or unwilling to find out if the IRA they’ve inherited has an after-tax basis. If you have inherited an IRA and you find out that it has an after-tax contribution you should fill out a Form 8606.4 By completing this form you’ll be able to claim the non-deductible portion of the required minimum distribution.

You can always ask the executor if they are aware that the IRA has an after-tax contribution, but they might not know themselves and will need to refer to the tax returns of the deceased to learn if they filled out the form previously.

Step 4: Make a Plan for the Taxation of Distributions

Taxation of distribution is different for Roth IRAs and other IRAs. In many cases, Roth IRAs have distributions that are tax-free if the beneficiary is taking the minimum distributions. However, for other IRAs, the distributions are fully taxable unless the original IRA owner had a tax basis on their IRA. If the distribution is taxable, you can add the taxable portion of the distribution to the tax projection for the year to learn the amount of tax you should withhold.

To avoid making costly errors, you should meet with a knowledgeable advisor as soon as you learn that you have inherited an IRA. Mistakes could mean larger taxes and complexities in the long run.

  1. https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/plan-participant-employee/rollovers-of-retirement-plan-and-ira-distributions
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidrae/2019/09/19/inheriting-an-ira/#6993dff82b7f
  3. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/102815/rules-rmds-ira-beneficiaries.asp
  4. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/retirement/04/030304.asp

Please note: This information is provided in general format. We strongly urge readers to consult with their financial advisor and tax professional before making any changes or enacting any strategy as it pertains to an inherited IRA.