“Look-Through” Trust

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?”