How to Transfer an IRA From an Estate to a Beneficiary

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Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) are retirement savings vehicles created to provide income for the account owner during the golden years. Money left over in an IRA after the account owner's death is transferred to a beneficiary. One advantage of an IRA is quick access to funds for the beneficiary, since IRAs avoid probate. Naming a living person instead of a trust or the estate as the IRA beneficiary gives options to the beneficiaries for deferring income taxes. If the estate is the beneficiary, the money is transferred according to the estate orders.

Things You'll Need

  • Probate court order
  • IRA statement
  • Death certificate
  • Call the IRA custodian at the customer service number on an account statement. Explain that you are executing an estate and need to confirm who the designated beneficiaries are. Request a death benefits form.

  • Complete the death benefits form. An executor for the estate can sign the form if a trust or estate are named. A surviving spouse, child (or guardian) or other living beneficiary is required to sign the form to make the claim.

  • Submit the death benefits form with all supplemental documents. These documents include a death certificate, any probate or trust documents assigning you executor rights and copies of identification.

  • Obtain the benefits. If the beneficiary is a living person, the benefits go directly to that person and not the estate. If the benefits come to the estate, read the trust or probate documents to determine how the money should be distributed. Deposit the check in the estate trust account and send each designated beneficiary a check.

Tips & Warnings

  • IRA assets are included in the entire taxable estate, and all distributions are added to the gross income of the person receiving them. Living beneficiaries can reduce their taxes by choosing to take out assets over time.
  • A surviving spouse has the option to continue the IRA as her own. Living beneficiaries other than a spouse may take a lump sum, distribute the money over five years or roll it into a beneficiary IRA to take payments over a lifetime. These options do not change the estate tax situation but reduce income taxes.

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