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  • Writer's pictureRandall Fisher

Retirement Planning, Part 5

Before the holidays, we started working through a discussion about retirement planning and ways that you can coordinate retirement plans with wealth transfer planning. It can be challenging because retirement accounts are driven by income tax laws designed to encourage Americans to accumulate wealth for retirement, not for transferring wealth upon death.

We have been examining many fundamentals to understand why naming a trust as beneficiary may be the only way to accomplish some of the client’s planning objectives.

This topic is especially important now as the baby boomer generation begins retiring. At the end of 2010, IRAs and qualified retirement plans held nearly $17.5 trillion, accounting for 37% of all household financial assets. And because of how lifetime minimum required distributions are calculated, IRAs and qualified retirement plans may be the largest assets held at death. When we last talked, we worked through multiple beneficiaries. But what if it is a sole beneficiary

Surviving Spouse as Sole Beneficiary Special rules apply if the surviving spouse is the sole beneficiary. For example, if the surviving spouse is more than ten years younger than the participant and the sole beneficiary, the participant’s MRDs are determined by using the Joint and Survivor Table.

If the surviving spouse is the only beneficiary, he or she can roll over the inherited benefits into his or her own retirement plan or elect to treat an inherited IRA as his or her own IRA. There is no deadline by which the spouse must make the rollover decision, but until the rollover is made, MRDs would have to be under the inherited IRA rules based on the spouse’s age unless the plan requires more rapid distributions.

Planning Tip: A spouse who is under 70 1/2 can postpone distributions until reaching his or her own required beginning date, and can take MRDs using the recalculation method from theUniform Lifetime Table. In addition, after rollover the spouse can name his or her own beneficiaries who can then use their own life expectancies after the surviving spouse dies, resulting in the maximum stretch-out.

Planning Tip:  If the surviving spouse is under 59 1/2, special care must be taken in deciding whether and when to do a rollover. This is because distributions taken from the account after rollover and before the survivor reaches age 59 1/2 are subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty.

If the participant dies before his or her RBD and the spouse does not do a rollover (i.e., treats the plan as an inherited plan), annual distributions to the surviving spouse can be postponed until the end of the latter of the year following the year in which the participant died or the year in which the participant would have reached age 70 1/2. If, after rollover, the surviving spouse dies before his or her RBD, the MRDs for her beneficiaries will not be based on the participant’s remaining life expectancy.  For them, MRDs will be based on either the five-year rule or, if the spouse has a Designated Beneficiary, the life expectancy of that Designated Beneficiary.

While the surviving spouse remains the beneficiary and has reached his or her RBD, following the surviving spouse’s death, distributions may be stretched over the surviving spouse’s hypothetical remaining life expectancy under the fixed-term method (life expectancy rule).

If you have questions, give us, or your neighborhood financial planner a call. If you don’t have a neighborhood financial planner, get one you trust. It will be the best move you ever make. If you need help finding one, give us a call. We’ll help you look. You can find out how to reach us at our website: You can also find us on Facebook at and Twitter @thefisherlawoffice.

As for all the details about retirement planning, we won’t bury you with details here, but will continue the discussion in future postings. If you would like to keep updated. Subscribe to the blog so that you will receive additional suggestions.

As always, good luck and good hunting.

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