An IRA account can be passed on by its owner to a spouse or a non-spousal beneficiary when the owner dies. But the treatment of the two types of beneficiaries is different, and knowing the differences can mean significant tax savings. Advisors recommend making a plan to handle an IRA account inherited from someone other than a spouse.
One main difference between an IRA account inherited by a spouse and one inherited by a non-spouse is that the spouse can roll it over into either an existing or a new IRA account and continue contributing to it. If the spousal beneficiary is below the age of 59½, he or she can take funds from the inherited IRA without paying a 10 percent penalty for early withdrawal.
Previously, non-spousal beneficiaries had no other option but to take a lump sum distribution from an inherited account and pay the tax consequences. This is no longer the case. Under the Pension Protection Act, a non-spousal beneficiary can also roll over an inherited account, but only directly (trustee-to-trustee transfer) to a new IRA account. The non-spousal beneficiary will not be subject to taxes on the inherited IRA until he or she receives distributions from the account.
However, the new account cannot be in the non-spousal beneficiary’s name, and the beneficiary cannot make any contributions to the inherited IRA. For instance, the new account could be in the deceased IRA account owner’s name: John Smith, deceased, IRA f/b/o Jane Anderson (beneficiary).
The direct rollover must take place by Dec. 31 following the year of the death of the IRA account holder. However, if the inherited IRA has a stretch option, the rollover can occur anytime after the account owner’s death — as long as the non-spousal beneficiary took out the required minimum deductions.
In the case of a non-spousal beneficiary, any required minimum distributions made by the deceased owner are deducted from the total amount that may be rolled into the new IRA. If the owner of the IRA died before making the required minimum distributions, the IRS may use either the five-year rule or the life expectancy rule to determine how much must be taken out before rolling the remainder into the new IRA.
The IRS rules that apply to inherited IRAs and rollovers are complicated, and it’s best to consult an accountant or financial planner.