What If Estate Is Beneficiary of an IRA?

It may sound like it makes sense, and it might be easier than picking a person (or two) to name, however there are some serious downsides to naming your estate as the beneficiary for your IRA.
carol grant estate beneficiary

Usually when an estate planning attorney comes across an estate named as a beneficiary, all they can do is shake their heads. It’s already too late to make any changes and, in most cases, the results are bad, reports a recent article from Kiplinger that warns “Don’t Name Your Estate as Your IRA Beneficiary.”

This usually occurs because the person was in a hurry or didn’t know better.  It is sometimes because they don’t know who should become the beneficiary and are advised to just write down their estate to move the application process along. The problem comes after years go by, the account owner dies and the beneficiary designation is revealed.

The SECURE Act eliminated what was once known as the “Stretch IRA,” where beneficiaries could take withdrawals based on an IRS table of life expectancy. The SECURE Act changed how IRA distributions are made and with a few exceptions, beneficiaries have ten years to empty the account.

The people who are not subject to the ten-year rule include: surviving spouses, disabled individuals, chronically ill individuals and individuals within ten years of age of the original owner.

One additional exception: minor children, until they reach the age of majority, at which point they too must empty the IRA in ten years’ time.

Estates may not use the ten-year rule. They must distribute the funds in an even shorter time period: five years. There are a number of reasons to avoid this:

  • The shorter the time period for withdrawals, the higher the potential for higher taxes.
  • Higher income levels can lead to higher Medicare charges.
  • Higher income levels can also lead to more taxes on Social Security income.
  • Assets left directly to a named beneficiary have some protection against creditors.
  • Assets in your estate have no protection at all against creditors.
  • Higher administration costs for probate fees, legal fees, etc.
  • Increased potential for a disgruntled heir to challenge your will.

The problem is solvable, if you act while you are living. Start by reviewing your accounts and identifying beneficiary designations. If you can’t find the beneficiary form, contact the institution, get a new one, complete it and submit it.

Reviewing beneficiaries is something to be done every three to five years, every time you review your estate plan. Don’t leave this to the last minute—take care of it now.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 27, 2022) “Don’t Name Your Estate as Your IRA Beneficiary”

 

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