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 How to Designate Beneficiaries for Your IRA

Law Office of Jonathan D. Alexander, Esq.

When planning for what happens to your Individual Retirement Account (IRA) after your death, it’s crucial to understand how beneficiary designations work. Your IRA does not automatically integrate into your will or trust but instead passes directly to the named beneficiaries.

How IRAs are Distributed

If no beneficiary is designated, the IRA will distribute according to the default provisions in the IRA governing document. Typically, this means the IRA might first go to a spouse, then children, or finally the estate of the deceased. Remember, a beneficiary designation always takes precedence over a will or trust.

Naming Your Spouse

Naming a spouse as a beneficiary is straightforward and offers maximum flexibility under current income tax rules. The most popular option for spouses is to roll over the IRA into their own, continuing the deferment of taxes and allowing them to designate their own beneficiaries.

Using a Trust as a Beneficiary

You can name a trust as your IRA beneficiary. This option is ideal if you seek professional asset management or wish to protect the assets from creditors. However, be aware that trusts must meet specific income tax requirements to avoid accelerated distributions and potentially higher taxes.

Designating Children as Beneficiaries

Children can also be directly named as beneficiaries. This choice allows them immediate access to the funds upon the IRA owner’s death. If you are concerned about their maturity in handling the inheritance, consider using a generic designation that adapts to changing circumstances, like “to my then-living children in equal shares.”

Considering a Charity

Charities make excellent IRA beneficiaries since they are tax-exempt and can benefit fully from the entire value of the account without tax liabilities. This is a particularly strategic choice if you also have non-IRA assets that could go to other non-charitable beneficiaries.

Naming an Estate

Finally, while you can name your estate as a beneficiary, this option limits the period over which distributions can be stretched—either five years or the deceased’s remaining life expectancy, whichever is longer. Additionally, IRA assets inherited through an estate are subject to creditors’ claims.

Each beneficiary type offers distinct advantages and implications, especially regarding taxes and asset protection. It’s wise to consult with a financial advisor to ensure that your IRA beneficiary designations align with your overall estate planning goals.

Contact Us Today

To learn more about designating beneficiaries for your IRA and other estate planning strategies, call (949) 334-7823 today for a confidential consultation.

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