Passed by Congress in December 2019, the “Setting Every Community Up For Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act” introduced substantial updates to long-standing retirement account rules. One of the most notable changes was the removal of the ‘stretch’ provision for certain non-spouse designated beneficiaries of inherited retirement accounts and the introduction of a “10-Year Rule” requiring those beneficiaries to deplete the entire balance of their inherited retirement account within ten years after the original owner’s death.
Notably, though, not all beneficiaries will be impacted by this new “10-Year Rule”. Instead, the SECURE Act identifies three distinct groups of beneficiaries: Non-Designated Beneficiaries (i.e., non-person entities such as trusts and charities), Eligible Designated Beneficiaries (i.e., individuals who are spouses of account holders, those who have a disability or chronic illness, those not more than 10 years younger than the decedent, and minor children of decedents or certain “See-Through” trusts benefiting such persons), and Non-Eligible Designated Beneficiaries (i.e., any individual or “See-Through” trust that qualifies as a Designated Beneficiary but is not an Eligible Designated Beneficiary). While Non-Designated Beneficiaries and Eligible Designated Beneficiaries are generally subject to the same rules that were in place prior to the SECURE Act (either the 5-year rule or stretching over life expectancy, respectively), Non-Eligible Designated Beneficiaries are now subject to the new 10-Year Rule, from trusts to adult children and more.
Given these substantial changes, there are many strategies that advisors can use to help their clients impacted by the new more-restrictive stretch rules, whether they be the (Non-Eligible) designated beneficiary of an inherited retirement account (trying to manage the compressed time window for distribution) or the original account owner themselves still planning for the future (to minimize the tax burden of account distributions in what is now a non-stretch world for many).
Some options available to Non-Eligible Designated Beneficiaries include spreading distributions out across a time frame for as long as possible to reduce annual income from the account, strategically timing withdrawals such that larger distributions are made in years with lower taxable income (e.g., after retirement), or simply leaving the account balance alone for as long as possible (and withdrawing everything at the end of the tenth year when required to do so).
Account owners themselves also have options to mitigate the tax impact for their heirs, including increasing the number of beneficiaries on their accounts to spread out and therefore decrease taxable income received by each beneficiary, and strategically allocating account shares based on beneficiaries’ anticipated income tax brackets to maximize the tax efficiency of those distributions. Alternatively, lifetime partial Roth conversions of tax-deferred retirement accounts can reduce (or eliminate altogether, if converting the full account) the tax burden on beneficiaries, though a careful analysis should accompany this strategy to determine how much of the original accounts should be converted to begin with (to avoid simply causing an even-higher tax burden today). Charitable Remainder Trusts can also be used to provide a potentially steady income stream for the beneficiaries (along with providing a gift to a qualified charity at the end of the trust’s term).
Ultimately, the key point is that, while Non-Eligible Designated Beneficiaries must now contend with the new SECURE Act 10-Year Rule for inherited retirement accounts, advisors can use several strategies to help clients minimize the tax impact of distributions from those accounts. Some can be implemented for the beneficiary after they inherit the account, while others can be used by the account owner themselves during their lifetime before the account transfers to the beneficiary. Although, in some cases, the best strategy may be simply to accept the 10-year rule as is, leave the account alone for as long as possible, and liquidate the inherited retirement account as required at the end of the 10-year window!