RMDs

When an IRA Owner Should Take More Than Their Required Minimum Distributions In Order To Save Income Tax and Avoid Nursing Home Spend-Down

In this post we discuss the topic of whether IRA owners should take more than their Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) in order to have the family pay less overall income and capital gains tax, and to protect accounts from nursing home costs.

My best guess is that more than 90% of IRA owners elect to take only their Required Minimum Distributions from their Traditional IRA. It seems that the only people who take more than the RMD are those who need the money to spend it.

What many don't realize is that the net amount to family is often not as much as it could be when IRA owners take only their RMDs. The rational goes something like this: When an IRA owner takes RMDs only, it is likely there will be a taxable IRA that will be left to beneficiaries. The beneficiaries must pay income tax on distributions they get from their Inherited IRA - sure, they can postpone distributions but they will still pay income tax on these postponed distributions.

However, an IRA owner whose taxable distributions exceed the RMDs, so much so that the entire IRA is depleted, will be able to invest these after tax proceeds in such a manner that the appreciation on those after-tax investments will never be taxed, due to the step-up in basis rule.

The kicker comes when an IRA owner wants to protect their IRA from nursing home expenses. When they take only the RMDs, it will create a situation that when they enter a nursing home, they will still own an IRA and will be forced to take distrubtions, pay income tax, and spend the after-tax proceeds on their nursing home care until they have less than $2,000, leaving virtually nothing for their heirs or designated beneficiaries.

However, the IRA owner who took larger IRA distributions, paid taxes, and put after-tax proceeds in a Medicaid qualifying Grantor Trust will protect those assets from future nursing home expenses, and will maximize what goes to the beneficiaries income tax free and capital gains tax free.

While I understand that people don't want to pay tax until the positively, absolutely have to, perhaps some thought should go into whether an IRA should take only the RMDs that are required, or whether they should take out more than the RMDs, and invest the after-tax proceeds in a manner that is both protected from nursing home spend-down, and income or capital gains tax at death.

This post is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal advice. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read on this site. Using this site or communicating with Rabalais Estate Planning, LLC, through this site does not form an attorney/client relationship.

Paul Rabalais

Louisiana Estate Planning Attorney

www.RabalaisEstatePlanning.com

Phone: (225) 329-2450

Designating Your Spouse versus a Trust for your Spouse as Beneficiary of your IRA

A common estate planning principle communicated by spouses who have children from prior marriages and relationships is, “If I predecease my spouse, I want my assets to be available for my surviving spouse’s needs, but when my surviving spouse dies, I want my assets to revert back to MY children.”

This can get complicated when the estate consists of Traditional IRAs, as many estates do. Let’s take the example of a Husband and Wife who each have two children. When H dies, his IRA is worth $1,000,000. In the year after Husband dies, Wife is 80 years old.  

When it comes to income tax planning and IRAs, most recommend to keep the IRA balance as large as possible, allowing an IRA owner to earn investment income on deferred income taxes. 

In this post we will discuss two strategies: (1) Naming the surviving spouse as the designated beneficiary of Husband’s IRA; and (2) Naming a trust (for the benefit of the spouse) as the beneficiary of Husband’s IRA. 

When a surviving spouse is the designated beneficiary of an IRA, the surviving spouse’s ability to roll over inherited benefits to her own IRA gives her a powerful tax-deferring option, not available to any other IRA beneficiaries. If the surviving spouse holds the IRA as an owner, her Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) are determined using the Uniform Lifetime Table under which her Applicable Distribution Period (ADP) is the joint life expectancy of the surviving spouse and a hypothetical 10-years-younger beneficiary. If she withdraws only the RMDs under the Uniform Lifetime Table, the IRA is guaranteed to outlive the surviving spouse. And it’s likely that the IRA will be worth more in the surviving spouse’s late 80’s than it was when she inherited it at age 80. 

Let’s look at some numbers. Since Wife can use the Uniform Lifetime Table, her first required distribution the year after Husband dies (assuming a $1,000,000 IRA value) is $53,500 (5.35% of the IRA value). The next year her RMD is 5.59%. And the next year, 5.85%. If the investment performance of the IRA exceeds these distribution percentages, and she only takes the RMDs, the IRA will grow.  

The downside, however, is that since Wife is treated as the owner of the IRA, Wife can name whoever she wants as the beneficiary of beneficiaries of her IRA. She could exclude Husband’s children by naming Wife’s children, or perhaps even Wife’s new spouse that she married after Husband died! 

So instead of naming Wife as the designated beneficiary of Husband’s IRA, Husband considers naming a trust for Wife as beneficiary. The trust instrument might provide that RMDs go to Wife for her lifetime, but when Wife subsequently dies, trust assets revert back to Husband’s children. But since a trust was named as the beneficiary of Husband’s IRA, even if the trust qualifies as a “see-through” trust, RMDs after Husband dies will be based on the single life expectancy of the surviving spouse (Wife) which results in substantially less income tax deferral than would be available if the surviving spouse were named as the outright beneficiary and rolled over the benefits into her own IRA. 

Let’s look back at the numbers. If a trust for Wife is named as beneficiary of Husband’s IRA, the first RMD when Wife is 80 (based on the same $1,000,000 IRA) will be $98,000 (9.8% of the IRA value). At age 81, the RMD will exceed 10% of the account value. And each year, the percentage will increase. If Wife lives long enough after Husband dies, the RMDs based on the required single life expectancy table will cause most of the benefits to be distributed to Wife outright which will defeat the purpose of trying to protect those IRA assets for Husband’s children. 

So keep in mind that there are tradeoffs when it comes to naming beneficiaries of IRAs.