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Understanding the Unique Taxation Standards Applicable to IRA Distributions

Posted by Andrew Byers | Jul 23, 2015 | 0 Comments

I have most of my every-day checking and savings accounts titled in the name of my revocable trust. Should I take the same steps with my 401(k) and retirement investments? 

For clients with a single or joint revocable trust, retitling assets into the name of the trust not only accomplishes the goal of its creation, but ensures the seamless and effortless transition of personal and real property to beneficiaries when the time comes. However, trust creators (known as grantors) are highly cautioned to speak to an elder law attorney prior to retitling retirement accounts or transferring those assets into trust, as a hefty and unexpected tax bill may follow. 

Tax implications of retitling a retirement account

401(k) accounts and IRA's can reap significant tax savings if withdrawn correctly and at the right time. By contrast, account holders can expect a massive tax penalty for withdrawing too early – or even inadvertently. 

Under current IRS rules, retitling a 401(k), 403(b), or Individual Retirement Account will be treated as an outright withdrawal of funds, even if the actual funds in the account are never actually spent. Therefore, the retitle will trigger a tax penalty congruent to the amount in the account for the transfer tax year, which can be especially significant for accountholder with high account balances. 

Safe ways to ensure the proper transfer of IRA assets

When it comes to leaving retirement account assets to a beneficiary, the easiest, simplest, and safest way to accomplish this task is to change the beneficiary designation on the account. This is accomplished by simply contacting the bank or investment firm and filling out a Change of Beneficiary form. Many accountholders choose an alternative beneficiary in the event the primary beneficiary predeceases the accountholder, but this is not always necessary. Then, when it comes time to distribute the assets upon the death of the accountholder, the funds will not only pass outside of probate, but will transfer directly to the beneficiary tax-free. 

If you have questions about proper estate planning or beneficiary designations, please do not hesitate to contact Andrew Byers, serving Auburn Hills, Rochester Hills and Troy, Michigan, by calling (248)301-1511. 

About the Author

Andrew Byers

Andrew Byers' elder law practice focuses on the legal needs of older clients and their families, and works with a variety of legal tools and techniques to meet the goals and objectives of the older client. Under this holistic approach, I handle estate and longevity planning issues and counsel cli...


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I help seniors and their families to prevent the devastating financial effects of long term care. I assist and represent clients in and from the entire metro Detroit area, including all communities in Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne Counties. In-person meetings with Andrew Byers are available at his office Monday through Friday. Video conferences over Zoom or Microsoft Teams are also available.

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