How Does the SECURE Act Change Your Estate Plan?

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The SECURE Act has made big changes to how IRA distributions are passed on after a participant’s death. Anyone who owns an IRA, regardless of its size, needs to examine their retirement savings plan and their estate plan to see how these changes will have an impact. The article “SECURE Act New IRA Rules: Change Your Estate Plan” from Forbes explains what the changes are and the steps that need to be taken.

Some of the changes include reviewing wills and trusts which include provisions creating conduit trusts that had been created to hold IRAs and preserve the stretch IRA benefit, while the IRA plan owner was still alive. Existing conduit trusts may need to be modified before the owner’s death to address how the SECURE Act might undermine the intent of the trust.

It may be necessary to rethink and possibly completely restructure the planning for IRA accounts. This may mean changing the beneficiary of an account to a charity, and possibly using life insurance or other planning strategies to create a replacement for the value of the charitable donation.

Another alternative may be to pay the IRA balance to a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT) on death that will stretch out the distributions to the beneficiary of the CRT over that beneficiary’s lifetime under the CRT rules. Paired with a life insurance trust, this might replace the assets that will ultimately pass to the charity under the CRT rules.

The biggest change in the SECURE Act being examined by many estate planning and tax planning attorneys is the loss of the “stretch” IRA for beneficiaries inheriting IRAs after 2019. Most beneficiaries who inherit an IRA after 2019 will be required to completely withdraw all plan assets within ten years of the date of death.

One reason why Congress enacted this law was to generate tax revenues that would become collectible far sooner. In the past, the ability to stretch an IRA out over many years, even decades, allowed individuals to pass their tax deferral on significant IRA growth to their family members, which meant that tax revenue due from the assets’ growth could not be collected.

Another interesting change is that there are now no periodic mandatory withdrawals when an IRA is inherited. However, at the ten-year mark, ALL assets must be withdrawn, and taxes paid. Under the prior law, the period in which the IRA assets needed to be distributed was based on whether the plan owner died before or after the RMD and the age of the beneficiary.

The deferral of withdrawals and income tax benefits encouraged many IRA owners to bequeath a large IRA balance completely to their heirs. Others, with larger IRAs, used a conduit trust to flow the RMDs to the beneficiary and protect the balance of the plan.

There are exceptions to the 10-year SECURE Act payout rule. Certain “eligible designated beneficiaries” are not required to follow the ten-year rule. They include the surviving spouse, chronically ill heirs, and disabled heirs. Minor children are also considered eligible beneficiaries during the time that they are minors (as defined by the tax code), but when they reach the age of majority, the ten-year distribution rule then applies to them. For example, a child who has reached the age of majority at 18 must take all assets from the IRA by the time they are 28 and pay the taxes as applicable.

The new law and its ramifications are under intense scrutiny by members of the estate planning and elder law bar because of these and other changes. Speak with your estate planning attorney to review your estate plan to ensure that your goals will be achieved in light of these changes.

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 25, 2019) “SECURE Act New IRA Rules: Change Your Estate Plan”

Stretch IRA May be Disappearing Soon

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Short of calling your representatives in Congress and hollering, there’s not much any of us can do about a proposed change to the rules that govern stretch IRAs, reports nj.com in the article “Your kid’s inheritance could take a giant tax hit if these bills become law. Thanks, Congress.”

For years, non-spouse beneficiaries who inherit IRAs have had the ability to stretch out required distributions over their lifetimes. That meant that inherited IRAs could say safe and sound out of the IRS’s reach, except for annual distributions that were quite small. If a grandchild inherited the IRA, the wealth stretched even further.

Depending on the final details of the legislation, the only people who will be able to stretch an IRA will be spouses.

Current rules require non-spouse beneficiaries to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) every year over the course of their life expectancy, as per the IRS life expectancy tables. Because they are taken over the lifetime of a younger beneficiary, they can be small. This means the impact of the distribution on the individuals’ income taxes are minimal and the IRA can grow tax-deferred over a long period of time.

Congress is looking for revenue, and the wealth of Americans in IRA accounts is in their sight lines.

First, the House passed the SECURE Act, which says that beneficiaries must completely empty their inherited IRAs within 10 years of ownership. The Senate then passed the RESA Act, which is a little different. It would allow a stretch for the first $450,000 of aggregated IRAs, then anything over that would have to be distributed within five years.

Both bills call for changes to apply to inherited IRAs and inherited Roth IRAs for deaths after December 31, 2019. What’s the bottom line? The Joint Committee on Taxation expects that these changes, if they become law, will yield $15.7 billion—with a “B”—in additional tax revenue through 2029.

The government would eventually get this money anyway, but this speeds things up considerably.

Let’s compare and contrast. An 80-year old woman has a traditional IRA worth $1 million. She dies and her 55-year-old daughter is the primary beneficiary. Under the current rules, the daughter’s first RMD is roughly $35,000. If the 25-year-old granddaughter was the beneficiary, the RMD would be roughly $18,000.

If the account earns an average of 5% annually, under the current rule, the granddaughter would have distributions of some $220,000 over ten years. If she had ten years to take the money out, she’d have about $1.3 million in distribution. Under the current rule, the account would have a $1.3 million balance after ten years, since the principal would continue to appreciate. Under the proposed rules, after ten years, it would be zeroed out.

The forced larger distributions will push heirs into higher tax income brackets. That will be followed by increased Medicare premiums, as heirs retire with higher income. Add to that: higher capital gains rate, from as low to zero to as high as 20%. If that’s not bad enough, it could also trigger the 3.8% net Investment Income tax.

One option is to move funds from a regular IRA to a Roth IRA, assuming the investor meets all the requirements to do so. The Roth IRA distributions would not be taxable (unless those laws change) but that also requires the current owner to pay taxes on funds moved to the Roth IRA.

Another option is to consider a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT) that names a charity as the IRA beneficiary. Upon the death of the owner, the IRA is distributed to the CRT, and the IRA owner’s heir would receive a fixed percentage of the CRT’s value for the remainder of their lives. When the heir dies, the money in the CRT goes to a charity or charities designated by the IRA owner, when the trust was created.

For now, these are proposed pieces of legislation, but chances are good they will be passed soon. Now is a good time to meet with your estate planning attorney to do what you can to protect your IRA and the stretch IRA of your children’s inheritance.

Reference: nj.com (June 10, 2019) “Your kid’s inheritance could take a giant tax hit if these bills become law. Thanks, Congress”