If your spouse passes away and you inherit his or her Individual Retirement Account (or IRA), it can greatly alleviate a lot of the financial burden you might endure from potentially cataclysmic circumstances. Even so, many inheritors make a number of mistakes during the process. Although the events that led you down this road can be an emotional rollercoaster ride, it’s important you take the time to get things right. Don’t do anything before doing the proper research.
In a perfect world, your loved one will have already established an IRA trust prior to death. This can help make it easier to assimilate and manage new accounts, but you’ll still have some work ahead of you. Whether or not that’s the case, it’s important that you take all the time you need to grieve before navigating affairs best left to probate lawyers. This will help you avoid obvious pitfalls and mistakes. Before you make any important decisions, consider your options and speak to a lawyer or two in order to make sure you have all your bases covered.
If your spouse passed away prior before the age of 59 and a half, then be careful not to put any retirement funds he or she accrued into a fund under your name. Doing so could leave you with no options but to roll everything into your own IRA–and that means a withdrawal penalty if the funds are coming from a 401(k) in your name.
If you’re comfortable enough and secure enough in your own retirement funds, you might instead decide to disclaim the IRA. On the face of it, this means you decline to inherit the funds. They are instead left to contingent beneficiaries, and usually these beneficiaries are children or grandchildren. Although this seems simple enough, you can’t decide which beneficiaries inherit the money. In order to find out who would inherit the money in your place, you need to research the rules of whatever organization has that money.
At the end of the day, you can only do so much. If you have questions about how to complete the transfer correctly, then you should approach a probate lawyer. This kind of legal counsel will help you protect assets from taxes and seizure, and navigate you away from any pitfalls that could develop, even if you think you did everything right.