What to know about the evolving rules for inherited IRAs


When you inherit an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or other type of retirement account, you’re faced with a set of rules that dictate what minimum amount you must withdraw annually. These are required minimum distributions (RMDs), and they have a significant impact on how much taxes you’ll pay and how you can manage the inherited money over time.


The “Preparing Every Community for Retirement Enhancement” (SECURITY) Act, signed into law in December 2019, marked a significant change in the way these distributions are handled. And the changes are continuing.

In this article, we’ll look at these changes and what they mean for you.

era of stretch ira

Before 2020, beneficiaries could take advantage of what was known as a “stretch IRA” provision. This allowed non-spousal beneficiaries to “step up” distributions – and tax obligations – over their lifetime. This approach allowed continued growth for potentially decades without immediate tax implications.


Safe Acts and Initial Misunderstandings

That all changed with the advent of the SECURE Act in January 2020. Under the new guidelines, these beneficiaries were now subject to the 10-year rule, which stipulated that the entire balance of an inherited IRA must be withdrawn within 10 years after opening the account. Death of the holder.


The introduction of the 10-year rule brought a wave of misunderstanding and confusion. A widespread misconception was the belief that beneficiaries had the flexibility to choose not to take any distributions until the end of this 10-year period. Many thought that the distribution schedule within that time frame was entirely at their discretion, as long as the entire account was emptied by the time limit. This misunderstanding arose from a lack of clarity in the initial guidance and widespread speculation about how the rules would be implemented.


(The SECURE Act made an exception for eligible designated beneficiaries: minors, people with disabilities, the chronically ill, and individuals less than 10 years younger than the IRA owner can still take IRA distributions over their lifetime.)


More: Personal Finance: Gifting money in families leaves a lasting legacy

More changes create more confusion

Then the IRS dropped a bomb in February 2022 requiring non-qualified named beneficiaries to take distributions over the entire 10-year period, not just at its conclusion.

Specifically, the IRS’s new stance was that if the original account holder was subject to RMDs at the time of his or her death, non-qualified beneficiaries would need to take annual distributions based on their life expectancy. Calculating these annual distributions involves using the IRS’s Uniform Lifetime Table to determine the beneficiary’s life expectancy, then reducing that figure by one each year.


Needless to say, these new rules have made the landscape quite complex for beneficiaries and their advisors. He also underlined the importance of staying on top of regulatory updates and understanding how such changes may impact inherited retirement assets.

IRS response to confusion and noncompliance

In response to widespread confusion and the many difficulties faced in complying with the new rules, the IRS announced in February 2022 that they would waive the penalty for those who missed their RMDs based on misinterpretation of the changes. The move was widely seen as an apparent acknowledgment of the complexity and uncertainty created by the proposed guidance.

The IRS extended this exemption through July 2023, giving beneficiaries and their advisors additional time to adjust their strategies and ensure compliance without the threat of penalties.


Awaiting final guidance

The IRS has said they expect to issue final guidance in 2024. These rules are expected to clarify the landscape and provide a more certain path for managing inherited retirement accounts.


For beneficiaries, the lack of clear, final rules has made it challenging to plan strategically for the future. They have had to navigate potential tax implications and distribution strategies without a firm understanding of what the future will hold.

For financial planners, the final rules will not only shape how they advise their clients about inherited IRAs, but will also impact broader retirement and estate planning strategies. Clear, definitive guidelines will allow them to provide more accurate, effective guidance and help their clients maximize the benefits of their inherited wealth.

Navigating the Future

Since the introduction of the SECURE Act and subsequent changes implemented by the IRS, the rules regarding the management of inherited retirement accounts have been changing. These changes underscore the importance of staying informed and adaptable. As regulations evolve, so too should our strategies for estate and retirement planning.

If you’re considering these changes, consider consulting a financial advisor to review your plans and prepare ahead. Keeping these ever-evolving regulations in mind, being proactive is key to optimizing your financial future.

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