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When To Disclaim An Inherited IRA

Should you ever pass up a chance to get more money? It depends. Suppose you're in line to inherit IRA assets. When it makes sense, you might use a "qualified disclaimer" so that the assets bypass you on the way to someone else.

A disclaimer is a legal document that lets you waive your right to receive money or property from an estate. If you execute a disclaimer, it's as if you never inherited the assets. Instead, they go directly to the next people in line to receive them. In the case of an IRA, the assets typically wind up with the account's contingent beneficiaries.

Why would you do this? There are two main reasons:

1. Assuming you don't need the money, you might prefer that the assets go directly to the younger generation, usually your own kids or grandkids. You were going to give the assets to them eventually anyway, right? A disclaimer shortens the process while lengthening the time over which the beneficiaries must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from the account. RMDs are based on the life expectancies of the beneficiaries, so the younger they are, the longer the wealth can be preserved.

2. A disclaimer may reduce a family's overall tax liability. The RMDs from IRAs generally are taxed at ordinary income rates, which go as high as 39.6%. Younger children and grandchildren are likely to pay tax at a much lower rate.

For a disclaimer to work, it has to be an irrevocable, unqualified refusal to accept property, and it must meet the following requirements:

  • It must be in writing with a declaration and signature of the person who is making the disclaimer.
  • It must identify the property (or the partial interest in the property) that is being disclaimed.
  • It must be delivered to the party or entity responsible for transferring the assets (for example, an IRA custodian or trustee).
  • The disclaimer has to be executed less than nine months after the property was transferred (or within nine months of when the disclaiming person reaches age 21, if that's sooner).
  • As a result of the disclaimer, the assets must pass to the new recipients without any direction from the person making the disclaimer. You can't decide to give the money to someone other than the legal beneficiaries next in line.

This process can be technically complicated, so you'll need to work with an attorney to provide the proper language for a disclaimer, which must take into account whatever is required under state law. Also, take great care in completing any beneficiary designation forms furnished by an institution.


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This article was written by a professional financial journalist for Christopher H. Weed CPA, Inc. and is not intended as legal or investment advice.

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