Stretching IRA Withdrawals


The primary concern of some traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA) holders who are approaching the mandatory distribution age (April 1 of the year after the year they reach age 70½) may be stretching their account assets over their lifetime and that of their spouse. Maximizing tax deferral and/or passing these assets to their heirs may be of lesser importance. Others, however, who are fortunate enough to enjoy sufficient retirement income from other sources, may wish to extend the tax deferral as long as possible.

Regulation reform finalized in 2002 makes this task much easier. In response to Americans living longer, healthier lives, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) increased the life expectancy figures on which required minimum distributions (RMDs) are based. As a result, RMD amounts have decreased, and IRA owners are now allowed to withdraw less than was necessary under the original distribution rules. For most, RMDs are calculated using a uniform table (uniform lifetime table), which assumes a beneficiary is fewer than ten years younger than the owner, regardless of the beneficiary's actual age. If the IRA owner has named his or her spouse as the sole beneficiary, and the spouse is ten or more years younger than the owner, a second table (joint life and last survivor expectancy table) may be used to calculate the RMD.

Beneficiary Choices

Married individuals quite often name a spouse as the beneficiary of an IRA. If the IRA owner dies prior to, or after, the mandatory minimum withdrawal date, only a surviving spouse can choose to make an inherited IRA his or her own. This would postpone mandatory distributions until April 1 of the year after the year in which he or she reaches age 70½.

In contrast, a nonspousal beneficiary is more limited and must begin taking distributions from an inherited IRA by the end of the year following the year of the owner's death. With the legislative changes, however, the consequences of beneficiary choices are no longer dependent on whether the IRA owner died before or after starting the required withdrawals, simplifying planning decisions. Unlike the old rules, such distributions no longer must continue to be based on the owner's original life expectancy calculation, but may now be stretched out over the life expectancy of the beneficiary, significantly extending the potential benefits of tax deferral.

What's the Advantage?

These simplified rules should make it easier for some retirees to meet the minimum distribution requirements, thereby avoiding unnecessary penalties, while enabling the greatest possible buildup of their tax-deferred assets. However, IRA owners should be aware that any such buildup could potentially lead to higher estate taxes down the road. If you have an IRA and have reached (or are approaching) age 70½, it may be best to consult a qualified tax and financial professional for assistance with your particular circumstances.

The information contained in this newsletter is for general use, and while we believe all information to be reliable and accurate, it is important to remember individual situations may be entirely different. The information provided is not written or intended as tax, legal, or financial advice and may not be relied on for purposes of avoiding any Federal tax penalties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel. Individuals involved in the estate planning process should work with an estate planning team, including their own personal legal or tax counsel. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a representation by us or a solicitation of the purchase or sale of any securities. This newsletter is written and published by LIBERTY PUBLISHING, INC., BEVERLY, MA