The first advanced planning strategy is to use a Roth IRA to maximize the deferral on an inherited IRA. Prior to the SECURE Act, beneficiaries could take distributions over their life expectancy. For those dying after 2019 with IRAs, the SECURE Act applies. Under the Act, most beneficiaries must withdraw the assets from an inherited IRA by the end of the period ending at the end of the year that includes the 10th anniversary of the IRA participant’s death, i.e., the so-called “10-year rule.” With a traditional IRA, the problem is that if the beneficiary waits until the last year for maximum deferral, they’d have a large bump in income which would push them into higher tax brackets. For example, let’s say Mary inherits a traditional IRA with $1 million. If she waits until the last year, most of the IRA would be taxed at the highest marginal income tax rate. Conversely, if Mary inherits a Roth IRA, she could allow it to grow tax-free until the end of the “10-year rule.” Mary could withdraw the entire IRA in the last month of the period because distributions from a Roth IRA are not included in taxable income.
The other advanced planning strategy is to use a Roth IRA to reduce estate taxation. The value of an IRA is included in the taxable estate of the IRA owner. However, with a traditional IRA, income taxes would be owed on the balance upon withdrawal. But this does not reduce the value for estate tax purposes.
Let’s look at an example: Tom Taxpayer is in the maximum income tax bracket of 37% and lives in a state without a state income tax. Tom has a taxable estate and has an IRA of $1 million. If Tom converts the $1 million IRA to a Roth IRA, he’d pay $370,000 in income taxes, thus reducing his taxable estate by that amount. That reduction in his taxable estate would save him the estate tax on the $370,000 income tax paid upon conversion, or $148,000 with an estate tax of 40%. Of course, the payment of the income tax upon the conversion to a Roth IRA also would mean that the beneficiary who receives the IRA won’t have to pay income tax upon withdrawal.
Thus, the conversion to a Roth IRA can allow a full utilization of the 10-year rule and can act to reduce the taxable estate while providing an income tax benefit to the recipient.