Transferring Wealth with a Stretch IRA

Want a way to flex some retirement planning muscle? Then consider a “stretch” (inherited) IRA. Not only can this strategy preserve wealth for future generations, it also has the potential to keep assets growing in a tax-deferred account for years to come. Here’s the inside scoop, based on one hypothetical family situation.

One Scenario

Imagine that George has accumulated $50,000 in a traditional IRA. His wife, Amy, should be well cared for through a $500,000 life insurance policy, his work pension plan, as well as several pieces of real estate and investment accounts they have transferred to a trust. Although Amy is also the beneficiary of his IRA, he wonders if it might be better to leave the IRA to their 25-year-old son Robert.

George meets with his financial consultant and finds out that in 2002, the IRS finalized rules simplifying the process of taking required minimum distributions — that’s the minimum amount that you must withdraw each year from tax-deferred retirement accounts after you reach age 70 1/2. The new rules extend the IRS’s life expectancy table, reducing the amount that must be withdrawn each year and making it much easier to “stretch” IRA assets to future generations.

Weighing the Benefits

George discovers that a non-spousal beneficiary of an IRA can receive distributions based on his or her own life expectancy. That means if Robert is the beneficiary of the IRA, the distributions could be stretched out over his entire lifetime.

Alternatively, Bob could name both his wife and son as primary beneficiaries. If Amy decided she didn’t need the income from the IRA, she could then allow Robert to become sole beneficiary of the account. Yet another possibility: George could bequeath the IRA to his one-year-old granddaughter Heather, allowing her to take advantage of tax deferral by taking distributions over a potentially even longer period of time.

“This is complicated,” says George to his financial consultant. “We want to be sure we haven’t overlooked anything and that we’re making the best move for us and our family. At the same time, this appears to be a tremendous opportunity to pass on wealth to future generations.”

Have you determined how your retirement accounts fit into your overall estate plan? Consider discussing this topic with your financial advisor.

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