Financial Briefs

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When To Disclaim An Inherited IRA

Should you ever pass up a chance to get more money? It depends. Suppose you're in line to inherit IRA assets. When it makes sense, you might use a "qualified disclaimer" so that the assets bypass you on the way to someone else.

A disclaimer is a legal document that lets you waive your right to receive money or property from an estate. If you execute a disclaimer, it's as if you never inherited the assets. Instead, they go directly to the next people in line to receive them. In the case of an IRA, the assets typically wind up with the account's contingent beneficiaries.

Why would you do this? There are two main reasons:

1. Assuming you don't need the money, you might prefer that the assets go directly to the younger generation, usually your own kids or grandkids. You were going to give the assets to them eventually anyway, right? A disclaimer shortens the process while lengthening the time over which the beneficiaries must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from the account. RMDs are based on the life expectancies of the beneficiaries, so the younger they are, the longer the wealth can be preserved.

2. A disclaimer may reduce a family's overall tax liability. The RMDs from IRAs generally are taxed at ordinary income rates, which go as high as 39.6%. Younger children and grandchildren are likely to pay tax at a much lower rate.

For a disclaimer to work, it has to be an irrevocable, unqualified refusal to accept property, and it must meet the following requirements:

This process can be technically complicated, so you'll need to work with an attorney to provide the proper language for a disclaimer, which must take into account whatever is required under state law. Also, take great care in completing any beneficiary designation forms furnished by an institution.