1. Failing to understand beneficiary options on inherited IRAs. You may well be among the millions of Americans, most of them spouses, who will inherit IRAs. Knowing the options you have can save you thousands of dollars in benefits and taxes.
Spouses have the right to remain as a beneficiary of the plan or roll it over into their own IRA. Which to choose depends upon the age of the person who has died, and the age and financial needs of the beneficiary. The “99% rule” says beneficiaries under age 59½ should retain the plan as an inherited IRA; those over 59½ should roll it over. The “1%” scenario is when the deceased spouse was over age 70½ and the beneficiary is more than 11 years younger. A rollover is best if the beneficiary doesn’t need any IRA distributions until after age 59½.
Another option for IRA owners is to name a trust as the beneficiary of the IRA. Levine suggests not doing this if you can accomplish your goals without it. But there are many cases when a trust will accomplish things that giving the IRA outright to a beneficiary won’t do. Estate planning attorney Ilene McCauley, from Scottsdale, AZ, says some of those instances are when you want to protect the IRA from a divorce of a beneficiary or guarantee that the proceeds go to your children when your spouse dies or remarries. McCauley recommends using a living trust as the IRA beneficiary rather than a testamentary trust established through a will.
2. Not understanding the RMD aggregation rules. These are widely misunderstood even by advisors. Levine asked the group of about 50 advisors this question: “If a 72-year-old client had two traditional IRAs, two 401ks, and two 403bs, how many RMD checks would need to be issued?” Only three advisors got the right answer—four. You can aggregate the RMDs from the two traditional IRA accounts and take the combined RMD out of just one account. You can do the same with the two 401k accounts. But with the 403b accounts you must take the RMD separately from each account. You can’t aggregate them or you face penalties and taxes.
3. Not doing periodic reviews of IRA beneficiaries. It’s important to review your IRA beneficiaries regularly. This is especially crucial when a beneficiary dies or you get remarried. For example, assume you want your employer’s retirement plan to go to your children upon your death. You remarry, but don’t have your new spouse sign a disclaimer waiving rights to your retirement plan. If you die after one year of marriage your new spouse, not your children, inherits the employer’s retirement plan funds.
The reverse is true with an IRA or a 403b. Let’s assume you listed your kids as the beneficiaries on either of these accounts. If you remarry and want the proceeds to go to your new spouse but you forget to sign a change of beneficiary form, there is no one-year rule as there is with an employer’s plan. Your kids , not your spouse, will inherit the account.
The bottom line is that, to get the most benefit from a retirement plan, you need to do your homework and seek appropriate advice. The money you save by avoiding IRA mistakes can make a big difference in your security and standard of living in retirement.