Beneficiary Designations

Serving Southwest Florida

Helping clients plan for their family's future, by creating an efficient, thoughtful and comprehensive estate plan that preserves their legacy and gives them peace of mind.

Trust as Beneficiary of an IRA

Is naming a trust as beneficiary of an IRA a good plan? The IRA usually loses the benefit of tax deferral, due to the fact that it has to be distributed faster than in other scenarios. There are only a few cases when a trust as beneficiary can avoid this problem.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Should A Living Trust Be Beneficiary Of Your IRA?” explains that the general rule is when an IRA beneficiary isn’t an individual, the IRA must be distributed fully within five years. When a trust, an estate, or a business entity is named as beneficiary, the IRA must be distributed quickly, and it’s then taxed. However, there’s an exception when you name a trust that qualifies as a “look-through” or “see-through” trust under IRS rules. To draft this type of trust, work with an experienced estate planning attorney to be certain that it avoids the five-year rule. Even so, the IRA must be distributed to the trust within 10 years, in most instances.

Another exception says there may not be a penalty when you name your spouse’s revocable living trust as the beneficiary of an IRA. Consider a recent IRS ruling that involved a married couple. The husband owned an IRA and had started to take required minimum distributions (RMDs). He died and had named a trust as sole beneficiary of his IRA. The wife had previously established the trust and was the sole beneficiary and sole trustee of the trust. She could amend or revoke the trust and could distribute all income and principal of the trust for her own benefit. In effect, it was a standard revocable living trust that is primarily used to avoid probate. The widow wanted to exercise the spousal option for an inherited IRA to roll the IRA over to an IRA in her name. The move would give her a new start, letting her manage the IRA, without reference to her late husband’s IRA. She could begin her RMDs based on her own required beginning date and life expectancy. She also could designate her own beneficiaries of the IRA.

The widow asked the IRS to rule that the IRA could be rolled over tax free into an IRA in her name. She wanted to have the IRA balance distributed directly to her to roll it over to an IRA in her own name within 60 days. The IRS said that was okay, noting that she was the trustee and sole beneficiary of the trust. She was entitled to all income and principal of the trust. Moreover, she was the surviving spouse of the deceased IRA owner.

In this situation, the widow was the sole person for whose benefit the IRA is maintained. As such, she can take a distribution from the inherited IRA and roll it over to an IRA in her own name without having to include any of the distribution in gross income, provided the rollover was accomplished within 60 days of the distribution.

Although this was a good answer for the widow, you may not want to name a living trust or your estate as the beneficiary of your IRA, even under similar circumstances. She had to apply to the IRS for a private ruling to be sure of the tax results, which is an expensive and time-consuming process.

This can be very complicated, so talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about your specific situation.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Dec. 29, 2020) “Should A Living Trust Be Beneficiary Of Your IRA?”

Avoiding Probate With Ownership

When your goal is avoiding probate, there are three categories of property, and only one requires probate, so it can be accessed when the owner passes away, says njmoneyhelp.com’s recent article entitled “How can we avoid probate for this account?”

First, it’s important to understand that property that passes by operation of law is any asset that’s owned jointly with right of survivorship. These accounts are sometimes labeled as “JTWROS.”

When one co-owner dies, the property passes by law to the surviving co-owner. This is a way of avoiding probate.

Married couples in Florida have a similar ownership known as tenancy by the entireties.  It also has a right of survivorship.

A second category is contract property, which includes life insurance, retirement accounts and any non-retirement accounts that have beneficiaries designated upon death.

These designations supersede or “override” a will and are also a means of avoiding probate, directly passing to the named beneficiary.

These are frequently designated as “POD” (payable on death) or “TOD” (transfer on death).

The third category is everything else. This includes accounts that are owned solely by the person who died with no POD or TOD designation and is usually subject to probate.

A certificate of deposit is a time deposit. It’s a financial product commonly available from banks, thrift institutions and credit unions. Certificates of deposit are different from savings accounts because a CD has a specific, fixed term and usually, a fixed interest rate.

To avoid probate to access a CD or any other account owned by a spouse’s name, you can either make the account jointly owned by husband and wife with right of survivorship. or designate your spouse as a beneficiary upon death.

Either option will succeed in avoiding probate to access that particular account, like a certificate of deposit.

Contact an experienced estate planning attorney with questions about CDs and probate.

Reference: njmoneyhelp.com (June 6, 2019) “How can we avoid probate for this account?”

Selecting Beneficiaries

For many people, selecting beneficiaries occurs when they first set up an account, and it’s rarely given much thought after that. The Street’s recent article entitled “Secure your IRA – Review Your Beneficiary Forms Now” says that many account holders aren’t aware of how important the beneficiary document is or what the consequences would be if the information is incorrect or is misplaced. Many people are also surprised to hear that wills don’t cover these accounts because they pass outside the will and are distributed pursuant to the beneficiary designation form.

If you are remiss in selecting beneficiaries and if one of these accounts does not have a designated beneficiary, it may be paid to your estate. If so, the IRS says that the account has to be fully distributed within five years if the account owner passes before their required beginning date (April 1 of the year after they turn age 72). This may create a massive tax bill for your heirs.

Get a copy of your listed beneficiaries from every institution where you have your accounts, and don’t assume they have the correct information. Review the forms and make sure all beneficiaries are named and designated not just the primary beneficiary but secondary or contingent beneficiary. It is also important to make certain that the form states clearly their percentage of the share and that it adds up to 100%. You should review these forms at any life change, like a marriage, divorce, birth or adoption of a child, or the death of a loved one.

Note that the SECURE Act changed the rules for anyone who dies after 2019. If you don’t heed these changes, it could result in 87% of your hard-earned money to go towards taxes. For retirement accounts that are inherited after December 31, 2019, there are new rules that necessitate review of selecting beneficiaries:

  1. The new law created multiple “classes” of beneficiaries, and each has its own set of complex distribution rules. Make sure you understand the definition of each class of beneficiary and the effect the new rules will have on your family.
  2. Some trusts that were named as beneficiaries of IRAs or retirement plans will no longer serve their original purpose. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to review this.
  3. The stretch IRA has been eliminated for most non-spouse beneficiaries. As such, most non-spouse beneficiaries will need to “empty” the IRA or retirement account within 10 years and they can’t “stretch” out their distributions over their lifetimes. Failure to comply is a 50% penalty of the amount not distributed and taxes due.

For many selecting beneficiaries, using the beneficiary form is their most important estate planning document but the most overlooked.  Let us help you incorporate selecting beneficiaries into your estate plan.

Reference: The Street (Dec. 28, 2020) “Secure your IRA – Review Your Beneficiary Forms Now”