Print Edition

  Email News Updates

Proposed Regulations for Inherited IRAs Bring Unwelcome Surprises

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, which became law effective on January 1, 2020, has resulted in many changes to retirement and estate planning strategies, but it also raised some questions. The IRS has been left to fill the gaps, most recently with the February 2022 release of proposed regulations that have left many taxpayers confused and unsure of how to proceed.

The most noteworthy topic included in the proposed regs is an interpretation of the so-called “10-year rule” for inherited IRAs and other defined contribution plans. If finalized, this interpretation could lead to larger tax bills for certain beneficiaries.

Birth of the 10-Year Rule

Before the SECURE Act was enacted, beneficiaries of inherited IRAs could “stretch” the required minimum distributions (RMDs) on such accounts over their entire life expectancies. The stretch period could be decades for younger heirs, meaning they could take smaller distributions and defer taxes while the accounts grew.

To accelerate tax collection, the SECURE Act eliminated the rules that allowed Stretch IRAs for many heirs. For IRA owners or defined contribution plan participants who die in 2020 or later, the law generally requires that the entire balance of the account be distributed within 10 years of death. This rule applies regardless of whether the deceased died before, on or after the required beginning date (RBD), which under the SECURE Act is age 72.

The SECURE Act does recognize five categories of “Eligible Designated Beneficiaries” (EDBs) that remain eligible to stretch out distributions over their lifetimes. They are (1) a surviving spouse; (2) a minor child; (3) a disabled beneficiary; (4) a chronically ill beneficiary; or (5) an individual not more than ten years younger than the deceased plan participant.

The 10-year rule also applies to trusts, including see-through or conduit trusts that use the age of the oldest beneficiary to stretch RMDs and prevent young or spendthrift beneficiaries from rapidly draining inherited accounts.

Prior to the release of the proposed regs, the expectation was that non-EDBs could wait until the end of the 10-year period and take the entire account as a lump-sum distribution, rather than taking annual taxable RMDs. This distribution approach generally would be preferable, especially if an heir is working during the 10 years and in a higher tax bracket. Such heirs could end up on the hook for greater taxes than anticipated if they must take annual RMDs.

The IRS has since muddied the waters by releasing conflicting guidance. In March 2021, it published an updated Publication 590-B, Distributions from Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), which suggested that annual RMDs would be required for years one through nine post-death. But, just a few months later, it again revised the publication to specify that “the beneficiary is allowed, but not required, to take distributions prior to” the 10-year deadline. Now the proposed regs issued in February call for annual RMDs in certain circumstances.

Proposed Regulations Regarding the 10-Year Rule

According to the proposed regs, as of January 1, 2022, non-EDBs who inherit an IRA or defined contribution plan from a plan participant, who dies before reaching age 72, satisfy the 10-year rule simply by taking the entire sum before the end of the calendar year that includes the 10th anniversary of the death. If the deceased passed on or after the age of 72, non-EDBs must take annual RMDs (based on their life expectancies) in years one through nine, receiving the remaining balance in year 10. The annual RMD rule gives beneficiaries less flexibility and could push them into higher tax brackets during those years. 

Aside from tax implications, this stance creates a conundrum for non-EDBs who inherited an IRA or defined contribution plan in 2020. Under the proposed regs, they should have taken an annual RMD for 2021, seemingly subjecting them to a penalty for failure to do so, equal to 50% of the RMD they were required to take. But the proposed regs didn’t come out until February of 2022.

What about non-EDBs who are minors when they inherit the account but reach the “age of majority” during the 10-year post-death period? Those beneficiaries can use the stretch rule while minors, but the annual RMD will apply once they reach the age of majority, which under the proposed regulations is their 21st birthday.

If the IRS’s most recent interpretation of the 10-year rule sticks, non-EDBs will need to engage in tax planning much sooner than they otherwise would. For example, it could be wise to take more than the annual RMD amount to spread out the tax burden more evenly over the 10 years. They also might want to adjust annual distribution amounts based on factors such as other income or deductions for a particular tax year.

It is important to note that the IRS did accept public comments from many tax professionals and others, and they also held a public hearing to address the concerns brought forward with the proposed changes. It may now take several months before the IRS releases the final regulations and hopefully provides further guidance regarding how beneficiaries should handle the missed RMDs should the new interpretation of the 10-year rule remain.

If you have any questions about the new interpretation of the 10-year rule or need assistance determining your tax strategy, please contact any of the professionals at Dannible & McKee, LLP.  Visit to learn more.