One common estate planning technique for clients with large retirement plan balances is to designate a trust as the beneficiary of those accounts. However, those planning to use a trust or trusteed Individual Retirement Account (IRA) are encouraged to take a fresh look at their plans following the updated distribution rules of the SECURE Act1.
While in many cases, retirement plans developed before the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (better known as the SECURE Act) continue to work, others require tweaking. In particular, the elimination of the stretch IRA for most non-spouse beneficiaries significantly changes the tax aspects that apply to younger beneficiaries.
The greatest urgency is for those IRA owners who are using a trust which includes pre-SECURE rules that force beneficiaries to stretch distributions over their life expectancy. Under the updated rules, a beneficiary might receive no distributions for 10 years, and then wind up with a large distribution (and tax bill) in the final year. Because trust planning is ordinarily done for the largest IRAs, confronting this problem is especially critical for advisors and their clients. There are exceptions: Spouses still enjoy the same advantage under post-SECURE stretch IRA rules, as well as beneficiaries who are less than 10 years younger than the account owner, and beneficiaries who are disabled or chronically ill.
Impact to non-spouse beneficiaries
The updated rules force non-spouse beneficiaries to empty the IRA no later than 10 years after the death of the account owner. The income tax owed by the IRA beneficiary will be at his or her marginal rate when distributions are made. In some circumstances, beneficiaries may choose to wait with the expectation that their own rates will be less in the future.
Other beneficiaries are likely to be in a high bracket throughout, and the effect of the post-SECURE distribution rules will push them into an even higher bracket. The end result will be a greater loss of family wealth to taxes as it moves to the next generation.
Considering accumulation trusts
Although trusteed IRAs and trusts generally offer the account owner greater control, the post-SECURE rules may alter trust planning. In general, for a pre-SECURE trust to have qualified for the stretch, the trust must have been drafted as a “see-through” trust, either conduit or accumulation. Conduit trusts are designed to force out all IRA distributions to the trust beneficiaries.
Accumulation trusts, on the other hand, provide the trustee with discretion whether to pay out or retain IRA distributions within the trust. Therefore, the trustee has the ability to spread some of the tax burden to the trust income beneficiaries, as opposed to accumulating all income within the trust. Consequently, IRAs payable to a trust should aim to qualify as an accumulation trust, allowing for more tax-efficient distributions.
Secure Act impact should not be ignored
Fortunately, as long as the account owner still has testamentary capacity, changes to the beneficiary structure is possible. Some account owners may determine the updated rules are sufficient for their estate plan; others may want to consider a fresh approach. However, no account owner should ignore the potential impact of the SECURE Act.
Several approaches should be discussed:
- Leave everything as is—Many plans created under the pre-SECURE rules will continue to work, others may not, but are preferable to the more drastic alternatives discussed below.
- Roth conversions—Although a conversion from IRA to a Roth IRA can be costly, the tax-free long-term growth can be a significant reward for paying the tax upfront, especially if this can be done at a lower rate.
- Life Insurance—Utilize the after-tax IRA distribution to fund premiums on life insurance. The proceeds received by the beneficiaries are generally free of all income and inheritance taxes, so it’s a tax-efficient way to transfer wealth to the younger generation.
- CRTs—Charitable remainder trusts offer attractive benefits for account owners with philanthropic wishes. A fund is created and pays an annuity income stream to a beneficiary followed by a distribution of the trust remainder to a charitable organization. The tax consequences are determined when the trust is created. This means that there is no recalculation made if the beneficiary “beats” the life expectancy table.
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Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, its affiliates, and its employees are not in the business of providing tax, regulatory, accounting, or legal advice. These materials and any tax-related statements are not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used or relied upon, by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding tax penalties. Any such taxpayer should seek advice based on the taxpayer’s particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor