On May 23, 2019 the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the SECURE Act (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement). A more appropriate name for the bill would be the Extreme Death-Tax for IRA and Retirement Plan Owners Act, because it gives the IRS carte blanche to confiscate up to one third of your IRA and retirement plans. In other words, it’s a money grab.
The SECURE Act is wrapped with all kinds of goodies that are unfortunately of limited benefit to most established IRA and retirement plan owners. But if you have an IRA or a retirement plan that you were hoping you could leave to your children in a tax efficient manner after you are gone, you need to be concerned about one provision in the fine print that could cost them dearly. Non-spouse beneficiaries of IRAs and retirement plans are required to eventually withdraw the money from its tax-sheltered status, but the current law allows them to minimize the amount of their Required Minimum Distributions by “stretching” them over their own lifetimes. This is called a “Stretch IRA”. Distributions from a Traditional Inherited IRA are taxable, so the longer your beneficiaries can postpone or defer them (and hence the tax), the better off they will be. The bad news is that the government wants their tax money, and they want it sooner than later. The ticking time bomb buried in the SECURE Act is a small provision that changes the rules that currently allow your beneficiaries to take distributions from Traditional IRAs that they have inherited and pay the tax over their lifetimes, virtually cementing “the death of the Stretch IRA.” (The provisions of the SECURE Act also apply to Inherited Roth IRAs, but the distributions from a Roth IRA are not taxable.)
If there is any good news about the SECURE Act, it’s that it does not require your beneficiary to liquidate and pay tax on your entire Traditional IRA immediately after your death. For many people, that would be a costly nightmare because they would likely be bumped into a much higher tax bracket. Under the provisions of the SECURE Act, if you leave a Traditional IRA or retirement plan to a beneficiary other than your spouse, they can defer withdrawals (and taxes) for up to 10 years. (There are some exceptions for minors and children with disabilities etc.) If you leave a Roth IRA to your child, they will still have to withdraw the entire account within 10 years of your death, but again, those distributions will not be taxable. But any way you look at it, the provisions of the SECURE Act are a huge change from the old rules that allow a non-spouse heir to “stretch” the Required Minimum Distributions from a Traditional Inherited IRA over their lifetime and defer the income tax due.