January 11, 2017

By: John A. Grey

Part II: Naming an Accumulation Trust as the Beneficiary of an IRA

Last month we discussed the benefits of naming a Conduit Trust as the beneficiary of an IRA.  A Conduit Trust allows the IRA to remain tax deferred thereby stretching the Required Minimum Distributions over the lifetime of the trust’s beneficiary which could be a young child or grandchild.  The ability to continue tax-deferred growth over a long period is a key benefit.  As a Conduit Trust is also the named beneficiary, minor children who become beneficiaries will not require a guardianship proceeding.

However, while a Conduit Trust affords these advantages, there are some notable drawbacks.  First, a Conduit Trust requires that all Required Minimum Distributions be distributed immediately outright to the beneficiary.  In cases where the beneficiary is a spendthrift, is at risk for divorce or is in a litigious profession such as physicians, the forced distributions are left wide open and unprotected from creditor claims. Second, a Conduit Trust cannot withdraw retirement account proceeds and accumulate them inside the trust.

Accordingly, a second option is to name an “Accumulation Trust” as the beneficiary of the IRA.  An Accumulation Trust allows  to receive the Required Minimum Distributions and then use their ultimate discretion in making distributions.  This way, distributions from the IRA can be kept within the trust and accumulated rather than being immediately distributed to the beneficiary.  As such, the trust assets have added protection against creditors. This is especially helpful where the beneficiary is a spendthrift and protects against inexperience.

In drafting the trust, special attention must be paid to the governing provisions. Specifically, in order to be able to use the principal beneficiary’s life expectancy for Required Minimum Distribution calculations, the trust agreement must prohibit trust distributions to anyone who is older than the person whose life expectancy is used to calculate the Required Minimum Distributions.  This can be quite limiting as typically named contingent beneficiaries such as spouses or older siblings cannot be so designated.  The trust assets can never pass to any older sibling or relative which may be contrary to the owner’s wishes.  Perhaps equally limiting, only individuals can be beneficiaries which prevents one from designating a charity.  If any of these requirements is not satisfied, the trust will not qualify for stretching.  As such, an Accumulation Trust is probably useful only for certain, older, beneficiaries.

New Congressional Update:   Congress’ Senate Finance Committee recently proposed legislation eliminating the beneficial tax “stretch” and replacing it with a mandatory 5-year liquidation rule for non-spousal beneficiaries.  Under the proposed legislation, an inherited traditional IRA would have to be liquidated generally within 5 years of the original owner’s death.  It will be interesting to see whether any of this legislation is approved.  Stay tuned.

For more information or if you have any questions about estate planning and taxation, please contact Judson M. Stein, Chair of the Trusts & Estates Practice Group, at 973-230-2080 or jstein@genovaburns.com or John A. Grey and Lauren M. Ahern, Associates in the Trusts & Estates Practice Group.

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