Naming Your IRA Beneficiary – More Complicated Than You Might Expect

The decision concerning whom you wish to designate as the beneficiary of your traditional IRA is critically important. This decision affects:

  • The minimum amounts you must withdraw from the IRA when you reach age 70 ½;
  • Who will get what remains in the account after your death; and
  • How that IRA balance can be paid out to beneficiaries.

What’s more, a periodic review of whom you’ve named as IRA beneficiaries is vital to ensure that your overall estate planning objectives will be achieved in light of changes in the performance of your IRAs and in your personal, financial, and family situation. For example, if your spouse was named as your beneficiary when you first opened the account several years ago and you’ve subsequently divorced, your ex-spouse will remain the beneficiary of your IRA unless you notify your IRA custodian to change the beneficiary designation.

The issue of naming a trust as the beneficiary of an IRA comes up regularly. There is no tax advantage to naming a trust as the IRA beneficiary. Of course, there may be a non-tax-related reason, such as controlling a beneficiary’s access to money; thus, naming a trust rather than an individual(s) as the beneficiary of an IRA could achieve that goal. However, that is not typically the case. Naming a trust as the beneficiary of an IRA eliminates the ability for multiple beneficiaries to maximize the opportunity to stretch the required minimum distributions (RMDs) over their individual life expectancies.

Generally, trusts are drafted so that IRA RMDs will pass through the trust directly to the individual trust beneficiary and, therefore, be taxed at the beneficiary’s income tax rate. However, if the trust does not permit distribution to the beneficiary, then the RMDs will be taxed at the trust level, which has a tax rate of 39.6% on any taxable income in excess of $12,500 (2017 rate). This high tax rate applies at a much lower income level than for individuals.

Distributions from traditional IRAs are always taxable whether they are paid to you or, upon your death, paid to your beneficiaries. Once you reach age 70 ½, you are required to begin taking distributions from your IRA. If your spouse is your beneficiary, he or she can delay distributions until he or she reaches age 70 ½ if your spouse is under the age of 70 ½ upon the inheritance of your IRA. The rules are tougher for non-spousal beneficiaries, who generally must begin taking distributions based upon a complicated set of rules.

Since IRA distributions are taxable to beneficiaries, beneficiaries usually wish to spread the taxation over a number of years. However, the tax code limits the number of years based on whether the decedent has begun his or her age 70 ½ RMDs at the time of his or her death.

To ensure that your IRA will pass to your chosen beneficiary or beneficiaries, be certain that the beneficiary form on file with the custodian of your IRA reflects your current wishes. These forms allow you to designate both primary and alternate individual beneficiaries. If there is no beneficiary form on file, the custodian’s default policy will dictate whether the IRA will go first to a living person or to your estate.

This is a simplified overview of the issues related to naming a beneficiary and the impact on post-death distributions. Uncle Sam wants the tax paid on the distributions, and the rules pertaining to how and when beneficiaries must take taxable distributions are very complicated.

It should also be noted that some members of Congress have expressed their displeasure with stretch-out IRAs that have permitted some beneficiaries to extend for decades the payout period from the IRAs they inherited. These legislators would prefer that total distribution from inherited IRAs be made within five years after the IRA owner’s death. So it is possible that we will see tax law changes in this area.

It may be appropriate to consult with this office regarding your particular circumstances before naming beneficiaries.

Want To Make An IRA Contribution For 2016? You Still Have Time

If you wish to make an IRA contribution for 2016, you still have time. Contributions can be made up to the unextended due date of your tax return, which for 2016 is April 18, 2017.

There are several benefits to making an IRA contribution, the most important one being that you are putting money aside for your future retirement. The following is a rundown of the rules and tax tips relating to making IRA contributions and the potential tax benefits.

Age Rules – You must be under age 70 ½ at the end of the tax year to contribute to a traditional IRA. There is no age limit to contribute to a Roth IRA.

Compensation Rules – You must have taxable compensation to contribute to an IRA. This includes income from wages and salaries and net self-employment income. It also includes tips, commissions, bonuses and alimony. If you are married and file a joint tax return, only one spouse needs to have compensation in most cases.

When to Contribute – You can contribute to an IRA at any time during the year. For the contribution to count for 2016, you must contribute by the due date of your tax return. This does not include extensions. This means most people must contribute by April 18, 2017. If you contribute between January 1 and April 18 of 2017 for 2016, make sure your plan sponsor designates it as a 2016 contribution.

Contribution Limits – In general, the most you can contribute to your IRA for 2016 is the smaller of either your taxable compensation for the year or $5,500. If you were age 50 or older at the end of 2016, the maximum you can contribute increases to $6,500. If you contribute more than these limits, an additional tax will apply. The additional tax is six percent of the excess amount contributed that is in your account at the end of the year.

Deductibility – Contributions to a Traditional IRA are generally tax deductible, but the deductible amount phases out for taxpayers who are active participants in their employer’s retirement plan. (Box 13 on your W-2 form from your employer will be checked if you are an active participant in your employer’s plan.) A higher phaseout threshold applies to unemployed spouses who make contributions based on the other spouse’s income. For 2016, the adjusted gross income (AGI) phaseout range is:

Filing Status Phaseout Threshold Fully Phased Out
Unmarried
$61,000
$71,000
Married Filing Jointly
$98,000
$118,000
Married Filing Separately
$0
$10,000
Spousal IRA
$184,000
$194,000

If you can deduct the Traditional IRA contribution, it will lower your AGI, taxable income and tax liability. The amount of your AGI is used to limit certain other deductions and tax credits. So deductible IRA contributions are a way to reduce your AGI and potentially increase other deductions and credits. For example, if you are obtaining your health insurance from a Government Marketplace, lowering your AGI could actually increase the amount of your premium tax credit that helps to pay for your insurance.

Saver’s Credit – For lower income taxpayers, there is a tax credit that helps you pay for your IRA contribution. The credit is a percentage of your IRA contribution ranging from 50% to 10% of your first $2,000 of IRA contributions. If you are married, it applies to each spouse individually. For 2016, the credit applies to married taxpayers with an AGI less than $61,500, single taxpayers under $30,750 and head of household filers under $46,125.

Choosing Between Traditional & Roth IRAs – Generally distributions (except for non-deductible contributions) from Traditional IRAs are taxable, while distributions from Roth IRAs are tax-free.

For more details on how an IRA contribution will impact your 2016 tax return, please give this office a call. We can also determine the effect at your tax appointment.