What's the Problem?
IRAs that will be inherited by anyone except a spouse, minor children, beneficiaries with disabilities, and anyone who is ten years or less younger than the IRA owner, are now to be completely distributed over 10 years, rather than the lifetime of the heir.
Why is this a Problem?
With a shortened time span to distribute inherited IRAs, taxable income generated from an inherited IRA, in addition to one’s normal earned income, can cause uncharacteristically high tax bills if appropriate tax planning is not executed. In larger inherited IRAs, tens of thousands of tax dollars are at stake.
What are some Solutions to the SECURE Act?
Tax Planning for the SECURE Act
With the passage of the SECURE Act, stretch IRAs became a thing of the past. Rather than allowing beneficiaries to withdraw funds based on their life expectancy, the Act requires IRA beneficiaries to make a total distribution of all funds from the IRA within 10 years, with limited exceptions for spouses, minor children, beneficiaries with disabilities, and anyone who is ten years or less younger than the IRA owner.
Congress passed the Act knowing the net effect would be higher income taxes to most IRA beneficiaries. According to the Congressional Research Service, the elimination of the stretch IRA alone has the potential to generate about $15.7 billion in tax revenue over the next decade. For many beneficiaries, the inherited IRA will come during their peak earnings years when their income tax rate could be at a maximum. The effect of high earnings and additional taxable distributions from a Beneficiary IRA could cause the net value of the IRA to be reduced by 30% or more. To minimize to tax bite of an IRA inheritance, both the original IRA owner and the beneficiary will need to do diligent tax planning.
How IRA Owners can Minimize Taxes from the SECURE Act
Roth IRA Conversions
Now, more than ever, converting Traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs should be examined. We strongly believe almost everyone should convert enough funds from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA to fill the 12% income tax bracket each year. 12% is a fair tax rate for most taxpayers and it’s much easier to implement effective tax planning for inherited Roth IRAs than for inherited Traditional IRAs.
Having assets in a Roth IRA has advantages for the original IRA owner as well. It will reduce the amount of required minimum distributions (RMDs) when you reach age 72 (up from 70 ½, a positive from the SECURE Act), as well as provide more flexibility in managing your income-tax rate in retirement. For a free Roth conversion flow chart that will help you understand how a Roth conversion can work for you click here.
While we usually don’t recommend going beyond the 12% bracket for Roth conversions, there could be certain circumstances where that might be appropriate. For example, if you don’t need the assets in your Traditional IRA for your retirement lifestyle and all of your heirs are high wage earners, it might be better for you to pay a 22% tax rate now rather than leaving the IRA to an heir who may be taxed 32-40% on those same assets.
Naming Grandchildren as Partial IRA Beneficiaries
If you have grandchildren, including them as partial beneficiaries of your IRA can potentially increase the net value of an inherited IRA. For example, suppose you have a $500,000 IRA, two children, and four minor grandchildren.
Both children and their spouses work and earn $150,000 per year in combined taxable income, so under current income tax law that puts them in the 22% marginal Federal income tax bracket. With a Beneficiary IRA of $250,000 each, if they take equal distributions from their Beneficiary IRA of $25,000 per year for 10 years, they will be pushed into the 24% bracket and thus nearly every dollar distributed from the Beneficiary IRA is taxed at the 24% level. Or worse, say they wait to take the full $250,000 distributions in year 10 or another single year—they would jump into the 32% Federal tax bracket.
To steer some IRA assets away from being taxed at those higher tax brackets you could earmark a portion of the IRA to go to each grandchild. Under current rules, any minor can have $1,100/year of unearned income with no income tax liability. This kiddie tax rate applies to children under the age of 19 and college students under the age of 24.
Every year $1,100 is distributed from your grandchild’s inherited IRA tax-free, resulting in a savings of $242 each year the child qualifies. If the child has earned income during their teen years, the distributions can be increased to fund a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA for the child’s benefit. Smart tax-planning could combine Traditional and Roth IRA contributions to eliminate all taxes on the child’s earnings. Once the child reaches the age of majority, the ten-year rule begins. It is unlikely the grandchild’s earnings will place them in a top bracket fresh out of school, so the strategy of offsetting distributions with tax-deferred savings could allow your grandchild to build a nice retirement nest egg without much loss to income taxes.
To accomplish this, you must be sure to name a custodian for the minor grandchildren since minors cannot make financial decisions for themselves. The custodian could be a parent, but one must be named. Another important factor in determining the dollar amount that should be allocated to a grandchild is the age of the grandchild when they receive the Beneficiary IRA.
Most IRA owners will name a spouse as a primary beneficiary and that is perfectly fine. Spouses are exempt from the ten-year distribution rules. Children are generally named as contingent beneficiaries, in some equitable percentage of the account value. Most custodians only allow for simple percentage distributions to be named beneficiaries and that could create some problems. For complex beneficiary strategies, using a pass-through trust might be a better solution.
Using Pass-Through Trusts Correctly
If you’ve already established a trust as the beneficiary of your IRA, it is imperative that you review and update that trust. Most trusts have language that instructs the trustee to pay out the required minimum distribution (RMD) to the beneficiary each year. Under the SECURE Act, there are no annual RMDs until the end of the 10-year term, then the required distribution is 100% of the account value. This is a tax time bomb just waiting to explode.
At a minimum, you must rewrite the trust to allow flexibility for distributions, which also provide flexibility for income tax planning for the beneficiary(ies) of your IRA. Realizing a $500,000 Beneficiary IRA distribution through a trust in one single year will likely subject the distribution to the maximum income tax rate of 37%, plus a 3.8% Medicare surtax on some of the recipient’s income. This is just for the Federal level taxes; add in state income taxes and the beneficiary may only end up with 50% of the original account value-- certainly not what you had in mind when you drew up the trust.
Most IRA custodians do not allow for complex IRA beneficiary schemes, so the ability of pass-through trusts to manage distributions to multiple generations becomes much more important. Through a trust you can establish custodians for minor beneficiaries, name an investment and income tax counselor, and provide for flexibility in the timing of distributions during the 10-year window allowed under the SECURE Act, or even longer in the case of minor children. Although establishing the trust incurs more expense and investment of time and thought, the result can certainly provide enough benefit to owners of substantial IRA assets and their families to make it worthwhile.
How Beneficiaries Can Reduce Taxes from an Inherited IRA
Off-Setting Distributions with Tax-Deductible Savings
For many Beneficiary IRA owners, the biggest tax planning opportunity will be to simply manage the distributions over the 10-year period. One strategy would be to offset the taxable Beneficiary IRA distributions with additional tax-deferred savings. To do this, simply increase savings to an employer’s retirement plan such as a 401k, 403b, or other tax-deferred plan, or establish and contribute to a separate deductible Traditional IRA or self-employed retirement plan of your own. Any form of tax-deductible contribution will reduce the impact on income realized from one’s Beneficiary IRA dollar-for-dollar.
Let’s go back to our previous example with the $500,000 IRA. If the IRA owner’s children in this illustration are like most investors, they only contribute about 5% of their salaries to an employee retirement plan in order to maximize the company matching formula-- a.k.a get the free money. This means the parents are likely contributing much less than the $19,500 maximum salary deferral allowed by the IRS.
Let’s assume the decedent’s children can defer an additional $15,000 for each spouse in their employer 401k plans. If they defer the additional $30,000 in one year, they can distribute another $30,000 from their Beneficiary IRA(s). This results in a wash for $30,000 of distributions from the Beneficiary IRA as it would swap funds from one tax-deferred account to another and fulfill the original IRA owner’s estate planning intent.
Inherited Roth IRAs
While inherited Roth IRAs are easier to manage from an income tax perspective, you should put some thought into the options. The most obvious option is to do nothing until the final day of the ten-year withdrawal period and then take a distribution of the entire account. This maximizes the tax-free growth of the inherited Roth IRA and because the distribution is tax free, has no effect on the recipient’s tax rate.
If the beneficiary is not making maximum retirement plan contributions when they inherit the Roth IRA, taking distributions along the way and using those funds to fund their own Roth IRA, or even better-- make contributions to a Roth 401k-- could mean you really do get to stretch the inherited Roth IRA over your lifetime. Non-deductible 401k contributions, up to the annual $19,500 limit, will work as well. When you retire, the non-deductible contributions, but not the earnings, can be rolled over into your own Roth IRA. Taking money from one pocket and moving it to the other pocket, that has no hole in it, (i.e. tax-free) makes a lot of sense.
The Role of Your Financial Planner
The SECURE Act makes working with a financial planner more important than ever before. Earning an 8% or even 10% return on your investments pales in comparison to shielding 30% or more of your assets from the ravages of our income tax system. To get started on a plan to preserve your IRA assets, click HERE.