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The SECURE Act’s 10-Year Rule for IRA Heirs

August 25, 2021

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act fundamentally changed the rules governing distributions from inherited retirement accounts. Inheriting an IRA or 401(k) under the new administration could create several adverse tax consequences for the beneficiary—and it's never too early to take actions designed to ensure the best possible outcome from a tax perspective. 

Under the SECURE Act, nearly every beneficiary who inherits a retirement account (IRAs, 401(k)s, etc.) in 2020 and beyond will have to empty the account within ten years—and pay income tax on the distribution at ordinary income tax rates. (NOTE: Eligible designated beneficiaries (EDBs) include spouses, disabled and chronically ill beneficiaries, minor children of the account owner, and beneficiaries less than ten years younger than the owner). EDBs are exempt from the new rules and can continue to withdrawal from the inherited account and pay the taxes over their own life expectancy.

Consequences of the 10-Year Rule

  1. The penalty for noncompliance. Although the beneficiary can use discretion in determining when to take distributions within the 10-year time frame, if the beneficiary fails to empty the account within ten years, the IRS imposes a 50% penalty on the amount remaining in the account.
  2. The increased tax bracket. Every distribution will increase the beneficiary's taxable income for the year. This creates the possibility that the beneficiary could jump into a higher tax bracket.
  3. Increased taxable income affects Medicare premiums. Income-based surcharges are added onto the base Medicare premium for taxpayers with higher incomes. Because an inherited account distribution increases taxable income, it can also cause the recipient to become subject to the surcharges.

Potential Solutions

  1. Every beneficiary should examine their tax picture in determining the best course of action when it comes to distributions within the 10-year window. 
  2. Current account owners should take action to minimize the tax implications for their beneficiaries. Owners with multiple heirs may wish to leave the traditional retirement account to someone who qualifies as an EDB or who's in a lower income tax bracket.
  3. For many account owners, executing a Roth conversion strategy can add flexibility and minimize the amounts in traditional retirement accounts. Roth IRAs aren't subject to the new 10-year distribution rule and distributions aren't counted as taxable income when the beneficiary eventually withdraws the funds.

Planning is complex under the SECURE Act but shouldn't get in the way of your retirement and investment planning. We're here to help, so call us today, and let's review your options.  


This document is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. One should consult a legal or tax professional regarding their own personal situation. Any comments regarding safe and secure investments and guaranteed income streams refer only to fixed insurance products offered by an insurance company. They do not refer in any way to securities or investment advisory products Insurance policy applications are vetted through an underwriting process set forth by the issuing insurance company. Some applications may not be accepted based upon adverse underwriting results.  Death benefit payouts are based upon the claims paying ability of the issuing insurance company. The firm providing this document is not affiliated with the Social Security Administration or any other government entity.

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