Personal finance

Here’s what to know before withdrawing funds from inherited individual retirement accounts

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If you’ve inherited an individual retirement account since 2020, you could have a shorter timeline to withdraw the money, which can trigger tax consequences. But there are a few things to consider before emptying an inherited account, experts say. 

Under the Secure Act of 2019, so-called “non-eligible designated beneficiaries,” have a 10-year window to deplete an inherited IRA. Non-eligible designated beneficiaries are heirs who aren’t a spouse, minor child, disabled or chronically ill. Certain trusts may also fall into this category.

In 2022, the IRS proposed mandatory yearly withdrawals for heirs if the original account owner had already started their required minimum distributions, or RMDs. But the agency has since waived penalties for heirs’ missed RMDs amid confusion.

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These waived RMDs could create a tax problem for certain heirs who still must empty inherited accounts within 10 years, experts say. The shorter window could mean larger distributions and higher-than-expected income for those years.

However, “most beneficiaries don’t even care about the 10-year rule. They just want the money,” said individual retirement account expert and certified public accountant Ed Slott. 

Most beneficiaries don’t even care about the 10-year rule. They just want the money.
Ed Slott
Individual retirement account expert

Heirs tend to earmark an inheritance for certain expenses and “the money is coming out on the way to the funeral,” he said.

Indeed, nearly 40% of Americans expecting an inheritance will use the money to pay off debt, according to 2023 survey from New York Life.

Tax changes are ‘one of many moving parts’

Provisions from the Republicans’ signature 2017 tax overhaul are slated to sunset after 2025 and without changes from Congress, individual federal income tax brackets could be higher.

Before 2018, the federal individual brackets were 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35% and 39.6%. But five of these brackets are temporarily lower through 2025: 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%.

Lower brackets through next year could prompt some heirs subject to the 10-year rule to make pretax withdrawals sooner.

But the expected tax law changes are just “one of many moving parts,” according to certified financial planner Edward Jastrem, chief planning officer at Heritage Financial Services in Westwood, Massachusetts.

“To a certain extent, I would lean towards other aspects of a client situation potentially being more important,” he said.

Before withdrawing money from an inherited account, you’ll need to consider one-off situations like selling a business or a home, which could temporarily boost income. You should also weigh your expected retirement date and when to start taking RMDs from your own retirement accounts, Jastrem said.

“It’s the big picture of each unique client’s plan,” he said.

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