The point of this blog post is, generally, to make an immediate spousal rollover to the surviving spouse’s own IRA when the first spouse dies. Avoid the situation where the surviving spouse continues to hold the deceased spouse’s IRA as an inherited IRA.
In most cases the spousal inherited IRA status, caused by a delay in making the spousal IRA rollover, results in the following costly trap if the surviving spouse dies prior to making the IRA rollover.
Assume John has a large IRA that names his spouse Jane as the primary beneficiary. Their children are the secondary (contingent) beneficiaries. John is 63 years old; Jane 52.
John dies. Jane plans to roll over John’s IRA into her own IRA, with the goal of obtaining the following two significant benefits: (1) With her own rollover IRA Jane can wait until she is 70 ½ to begin taking out her required minimum distributions [“RMD”]; and (2) Jane can name their children as the primary beneficiaries of her rollover IRA. This is an excellent plan in this case.
As to asset protection, Jane’s own rollover IRA will benefit from generous federal and state law protection for her IRA. By contrast, an inherited IRA does not get the same degree of asset protection.
Here is the crux of this blog post: Jane dies before making the rollover to her own IRA.
Absent the rollover at her death, Jane is treated as the beneficiary of John’s IRA, as an inherited IRA. As a result of Jane’s death occurring after John’s death, John’s IRA contract controls how Jane’s inherited IRA account must be distributed, etc. This is John’s IRA account contract with the financial institution that holds his IRA account.
Depending on the governing terms of John’s IRA contract, John’s IRA likely must be payable either to Jane’s estate or to John’s heirs. As a slight consolation, the duration of the distribution payout to Jane’s estate or to John’s heirs can still be computed over Jane’s life expectancy (her actuarial life expectancy as of John’s death).
Also, absent the rollover, the annual RMD for John’s IRA (Jane’s inherited IRA] must start in the year after John’s death. There is no delay-option until Jane would have turned age 70 ½, etc. In addition, distributions to Jane’s estate or to John’s heirs will likely result in adverse income tax consequences due to the compressed tax rates for an estate, etc.
The next point also is important and frequently overlooked. In this example with Jane dying after John, John having named the children as secondary beneficiaries no longer has any effect. John’s secondary beneficiary designation was relevant only if Jane had predeceased John. With Jane’s death occurring after John’s death, John’s secondary beneficiary designation for his IRA account means nothing. The overlooked point is that there is no look-back to John’s secondary beneficiary designation as a result of Jane’s subsequent death.
One final ancillary point about the above inherited IRA: John and Jane also must each include express language in their financial powers of attorney allowing the agent to make a spousal IRA rollover. This is critical if Jane is incapable of making her IRA rollover at the time of John’s death (due to her age, disability, etc.). The power of attorney needs also to authorize and spell out the agent’s authority and the naming of the primary beneficiaries for the rollover IRA.