If you have inherited an individual retirement account (IRA), you may be able to re-invest the proceedings or begin receiving immediate disbursements. However, the rules for inherited IRAs differ depending on your relationship with the deceased person. Here is what you should know if you inherit an IRA. When you inherit an IRA

Inherited Individual Retirement Accounts

An inherited individual retirement account, or a beneficiary IRA, is the account opened by a person who inherits an IRA after the original owner passes away.

While the IRA’s original owner can name anyone as a beneficiary, inheritors may be subject to stringent rules regarding the account’s use.

Spousal Use of an Inherited IRA

If you are the sole beneficiary of your spouse’s IRA, you are afforded significant flexibility in how you can use the account and its proceeds. This is because the Internal Revenue Service will effectively treat you as the IRA’s original owner.

You could:

  • Treat the IRA as your own, listing yourself as its new owner
  • Roll the IRA over into another account, including your private, pre-existing individual retirement account, an employer-sponsored plan, or a 401(k)
  • Begin receiving immediate disbursements from the account
  • Receive the IRA’s balance as a single, lump-sum payment

While surviving spouses have an abundance of options, they may be precluded from certain decisions based on their age. You may want to speak to an estate planning attorney to clarify how you can best use an IRA’s proceeds and/or discuss the potential tax implications of your reallocation.

Non-Spousal Use of an Inherited IRA

If you are not the surviving spouse of an inherited IRA or you’re sharing the proceeds with one or more beneficiaries, you are limited in your options.

You could:

  • Transfer your portion of the inherited IRA assets into a new IRA that is formally established as a beneficiary IRA. Recently enacted federal laws will prevent you from making any further contributions to the inherited account. You may receive regular disbursements or allow the account to accrue non-taxable interest for 10 years, at which point you must withdraw all remaining funds.
  • Receive the IRA’s balance as a single, lump-sum payment.

While many people consider withdrawing the IRA’s balance as a lump-sum payment, doing so may cause you to incur unexpectedly high tax penalties.

Understanding the IRS’s Year-of-Death Requirements

Anyone who is inheriting an individual retirement account must comply with “required minimum distribution rules,” or RMDs.

When an IRA holder turns 72—or 70.5 for those who turned 70.5 before January 1, 2020—they must begin taking required minimum distributions from their individual retirement account. An IRA’s required minimum distribution is based off the fair market value of the IRA, as well as the account holder’s current age and life expectancy.

If the deceased person did not make their RMD after the beginning of the calendar year, the beneficiary must make the RMD before the end of the calendar year. If the RMD is not met, the beneficiary could be subject to a substantial penalty.


Under the SECURE Act of 2019, the beneficiary of an inherited IRA must deplete the account within 10 years of receipt. So, even if the beneficiary is not required to make RMDs on the basis of age, they must still make one or more withdrawals equaling the remaining account balance before the end of 10 years.

You may be exempted from the 10-year rule if you treat the IRA as your own and are one of the following types of beneficiaries:

  • A surviving spouse
  • A disabled or chronically ill person
  • An underage child
  • Any person who was not more than 10 years younger than the original IRA owner

If you are not required to make RMDs and are exempted from the 10-year rule, you must list the IRA as your own by December 31 of the year following the original IRA owner’s death.

Surviving spouses may also delay the commencement of mandatory RMDs until the year that the account holder would have turned 72 or the surviving spouse’s own 72nd birthday.

Speak to an Attorney Today

Inherited IRAs are subject to many different laws, rules, and regulations. Even if you know what you would like to do with an individual retirement account’s proceeds, you may be able to save substantial money in taxes through strategically timed disbursements or permissible contributions.

You deserve to reap the rewards of your loved one’s legacy. The Law Firm of Kavesh, Minor & Otis, Inc. could help you make the most of an inherited retirement account. Please send us a message online, or call us at 1-800-756-5596 to schedule your initial consultation.


Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.
Post A Comment