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inherited ira non spouse beneficiary new rules


The SECURE Act was signed into law on December 19, 2019 and with it comes some very important changes to the options that are available to non-spouse beneficiaries of IRA’s, 401(k), 403(b), and other types of retirement accounts starting in 2020.  Unfortunately, with the passing of this law, Congress took away one of the most valuable distribution options available to non-spouse beneficiaries called the “stretch” provision.  Non-spouse beneficiaries would utilize this distribution option to avoid the tax hit associated with having to take big distributions from pre-tax retirement accounts in a single tax year.  This article will cover:


  • The old inherited IRA rules vs. the new inherited IRA rules
  • The new “10 Year Rule”
  • Who is grandfathered in under the old inherited IRA rules?
  • Impact of the new rules on minor children beneficiaries
  • Tax traps awaiting non spouse beneficiaries of retirement accounts


The “Stretch” Option Is Gone


The SECURE Act’s elimination of the stretch provision will have a big impact on non-spouse beneficiaries. Prior to January 1, 2020, non-spouse beneficiaries that inherited retirement accounts had the option to either:


  • Take a full distribution of the retirement account within 5 years


  • Rollover the balance to an inherited IRA and stretch the distributions from the retirement account over their lifetime. Also known as the “stretch option”.


Since any money distributed from a pre-tax retirement account is taxable income to the beneficiary, many non-spouse beneficiaries would choose the stretch option to avoid the big tax hit associated with taking larger distributions from a retirement account in a single year.   Under the old rules, if you did not move the money to an inherited IRA by  December 31st of the year following the decedent’s death, you were forced to take out the full account balance within a 5 year period.


On the flip side, the stretch option allowed these beneficiaries to move the retirement account balance from the decedent’s retirement account into their own inherited IRA tax and penalty free.  The non-spouse beneficiary was then only required to take small distributions each year from the account called a RMD (“required minimum distribution”) but was allowed to keep the retirement account intact and continuing to accumulate tax deferred over their lifetime. A huge benefit!


The New 10 Year Rule


For non-spouse beneficiaries, the stretch option was replaced with the “10 Year Rule” which states that the balance in the inherited retirement account needs to be fully distributed by the end of the 10th year following the decedent’s date of death.  The loss of the stretch option will be problematic for non-spouse beneficiaries that inherit sizable retirement accounts because they will be forced to take larger distributions exposing those pre-tax distributions to higher tax rates.


No RMD Requirement Under The 10 Year Rule


Even though the stretch option has been lost, beneficiaries will have some flexibility as to the timing of when distributions will take place from their inherited IRA.  Unlike the stretch provision that required the non-spouse beneficiary to start taking the RMD’s the year following the decedent’s date of death, there are no RMD requirements associated with the new 10 year rule. Meaning in extreme cases, the beneficiary could choose not to take any distributions from the retirement account for 9 years and then in year 10 distribute the full account balance.


Now, unless you love paying taxes, very few people would elect to distribute a large pre-tax retirement account balance in a single tax year but the new rules give you a decade to coordinate a distribution strategy that will help you to manage your tax liability under the new rules.


Tax Traps For Non-Spouse Beneficiaries


These new inherited IRA distribution rules are going to require pro-active tax and financial planning for the beneficiaries of these retirement accounts. I’m lumping financial planning into that mix because taking distributions from pre-tax retirement accounts increases your taxable income which could cause the following things to happen:


  • Reduce the amount of college financial aid that your child is receiving
  • Increase the amount of your social security that is considered taxable income
  • Loss of property tax credits such as the Enhanced STAR Program
  • Increase your Medicare Part B and Part D premiums the following year
  • You may phase out of certain tax credits or deductions that you were previously receiving
  • Eliminate your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA
  • Loss of Medicaid or Special Needs benefits
  • Ordinary income and capital gains taxed at a higher rate


You really have to plan out the next 10 years and determine from a tax and financial planning standpoint what is the most advantageous way to distribute the full balance of the inherited IRA to minimize the tax hit and avoid triggering an unexpected financial consequence associated with having additional income during that 10 year period.


Who Is Grandfathered In?


If you are the non-spouse beneficiary of a retirement account and the decedent passed away prior to January 1, 2020, you are grandfathered in under the old inherited IRA rules. Meaning you are still able to utilize the stretch provision.   Here are a few examples:


Example 1: If you had a parent pass away in 2018 and in 2019 you rolled over their IRA into your own inherited IRA, you are not subject to the new 10 year rule.  You are allowed to stretch the IRA distributions over your lifetime in the form of those RMD’s.


Example 2:  On December 15, 2019, you father passed away and you are listed as the beneficiary on his 401(k) account. Since he passed away prior to January 1, 2020, you would still have the option of setting up an Inherited IRA prior to December 31, 2020 and then stretching the distributions over your lifetime.


Example 3:  On February 3, 2020, your uncle passes away and you are listed as a beneficiary on his Rollover IRA. Since he passed away after January 1, 2020, you would be required to distribute the full IRA balance prior to December 31, 2030.


You are also grandfathered in under the old rules if:


  • The beneficiary is the spouse
  • Disabled beneficiaries
  • Chronically Ill beneficiaries
  • Individuals who are NOT more than 10 years younger than the decendent
  • Certain minor children (see below)


Even beyond 2020, the beneficiaries listed above will still have the option to rollover the balance into their own inherited IRA and then stretch the required minimum distributions over their lifetime.


Minor Children As Beneficiaries


The rules are slightly different if the beneficiary is the child of the decedent AND they are still a minor.  I purposely capitalized the word “and”.   Within the new law is a “Special Rule for Minor Children” section that states if the beneficiary is a child of the decedent but has not reached the age of majority, then the child will be able to take age-based RMD’s from the inherited IRA but only until they reach the age of majority. Once they are no longer a minor, they are required to distribute the remainder of the retirement account balance within 10 years.


Example:  A mother and father pass away in a car accident and the beneficiaries listed on their retirement accounts are their two children, Jacob age 10, and Sarah age 8.  Jacob and Sarah would be able to move the balances from their parent’s retirements accounts into an inherited IRA and then just take small required minimum distributions from the account based on their life expectancy until they reach age 18.  In their state of New York, age 18 is the age of majority.  The entire inherited IRA would then need to be fully distributed to them before the end of the calendar year of their 28th birthday.


This exception only applies if they are a child of the decedent. If a minor child inherits a retirement account from a non-parent, such as a grandparent, then they are immediately subject to the 10 year rule.


Note: The age of majority varies by state.


Plans Not Impacted Until January 1, 2022


The replacement of the stretch option with the new 10 Year Rule will impact most non-spouse beneficiaries in 2020.  There are a few exceptions to that effective date:


  • 403(b) & 457 plans sponsored by state and local governments, including Thrift Savings Plans sponsored by the Federal Government will not lose the stretch option until January 1, 2022
  • Plans maintained pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement also do not lose the stretch option until January 1, 2022


Advanced Planning


Under the old inherited IRA rules there was less urgency for immediate tax planning because the non-spouse beneficiaries just had to move the money into an inherited IRA the year after the decedent passed away and in most cases the RMD’s were relatively small resulting in a minimal tax impact.   For non-spouse beneficiaries that inherit a retirement account after January 1, 2020, it will be so important to have a tax plan and financial plan in place as soon as possible otherwise you could lose a lot of your inheritance to higher taxes or other negative consequences associated with having more income during those distribution years.


Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions on the new inherited IRA rules.  We would also be more than happy to share with you some of the advanced tax strategies that we will be using with our clients to help them to minimize the tax impact of the new 10 year rule.


Michael Ruger

About Michael………

Hi, I’m Michael Ruger. I’m the managing partner of Greenbush Financial Group and the creator of the nationally recognized Money Smart Board blog . I created the blog because there are a lot of events in life that require important financial decisions. The goal is to help our readers avoid big financial missteps, discover financial solutions that they were not aware of, and to optimize their financial future.

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