If you have an individual retirement account or IRA, you should have a plan for how the account’s assets will be distributed after you die. There are a number of tax planning strategies that can be used for this.
Many IRA owners opt to name a beneficiary to receive the account’s funds after they die. While you can name an individual, such as a spouse or child, as the beneficiary, you may also consider naming a trust to manage the account’s distribution.
Using a trust as an IRA beneficiary can provide several benefits, including asset protection, tax advantages, and control over the distribution of the funds. However, there are specific rules and guidelines to follow. Private Letter Ruling 2005377044 provides an opportunity to consider these concepts.
Benefits of Naming a Trust as an IRA Beneficiary
By naming a trust as the beneficiary of an IRA, you can provide several benefits, including asset protection, control over distribution, and tax advantages. A trust can help manage the distribution of IRA funds after your passing, ensuring that they are used for specific purposes and providing greater protection against potential threats, such as creditors, lawsuits, or government entitlements.
In addition, a trust can provide greater control over the distribution of IRA funds. The trust document can specify when and how the beneficiaries receive the funds, ensuring that they are used for specific purposes, such as education or healthcare. This can also result in lower income taxes for the beneficiaries over time.
About PLR 2005377044
A private letter ruling or PLR is a written statement from the IRS that provides guidance on how it will treat a particular tax issue in a specific situation. While a PLR is only binding on the taxpayer who requested it, it can provide insight into the IRS’s interpretation of the tax law.
PLR 2005377044 addresses the use of trusts as beneficiaries of IRAs. The PLR asks about a “required minimum distribution (“RMD”) conduit trust.” An RMD is the amount of money that must be withdrawn from an IRA by the account holder at a certain age. For example, in 2023, the age at which you must begin taking RMDs changed to 73 years.
An RMD conduit trust is a type of trust that is designed to ensure that the RMDs from an IRA are distributed to the trust’s beneficiaries in a timely manner. By naming an RMD conduit trust as the beneficiary of an IRA, the trust can be used to receive the RMDs from the IRA after the owner’s death. The RMDs are then distributed to the trust’s beneficiaries in the same year they are received. This can help ensure that the IRA’s assets are distributed to the intended beneficiaries in a timely and tax-efficient manner.
RMD trust rules are somewhat involved, but essentially RMD trusts allow IRA proceeds to be held in trust for individual beneficiaries and the IRA funds can be maintained in trust for and paid out over the course of the beneficiary’s lifetime. In general, these trusts involve two issues: (1) whose life expectancy IRA distributions are based on and (2) how the life expectancy is calculated when there are multiple beneficiaries.
The Treasury Regulations provide that the life expectancy of IRA distributions is based upon the beneficiary’s life expectancy. If there are multiple trust beneficiaries then the life expectancy is that of the oldest beneficiary. This can be disadvantageous for younger beneficiaries when there are also older trust beneficiaries (such as when a trust names the grandchildren and parents as beneficiaries). The Regulations and letter ruling address this inequity by providing that if the IRA proceeds are allocated to separate trusts with separate trust beneficiaries, the life expectancy for each individual beneficiary will be the life expectancy used for purposes of making distributions.
Conduit vs. Accumulation Trust
Naming a trust as a beneficiary of an IRA allows for asset protection and potentially extends the stretch provisions. However, it is crucial to distinguish between a conduit trust and an accumulation trust, as only a designated beneficiary trust will qualify for the life expectancy rule.
A conduit trust requires all required minimum distributions (RMDs) to be distributed currently to the designated beneficiary. In contrast, an accumulation trust allows the trustee to accumulate IRA/Plan distributions in trust and distribute them according to their discretion. A standalone IRA trust with the toggle switch feature allows for the conversion of a conduit trust to an accumulation trust on or before the designation date. This can be accomplished by giving powers to independent trust protectors, who can void the provision in the trust agreement that requires all RMDs to be currently distributed to the designated beneficiary.
Toggling from an accumulation trust to a conduit trust is less clear and may not be recognized by the IRS. Post-death trust modifications will not be favored by the IRS, and caution must be exercised when employing the toggling strategy. Additionally, while a spousal accumulation trust can accumulate IRA/Plan distributions for the surviving spouse’s benefit, it will not qualify for the life expectancy rule, and distributions will be delayed under the 10-year rule.
These trusts are useful when a significant portion of one’s estate consists of an IRA (or IRAs), there are multiple beneficiaries who could benefit from stretching out IRA distributions for a long period of time, the beneficiaries will be likely to have taxable estates that are large enough to incur an estate tax liability, and/or one or more of the beneficiaries might have future creditor problems. In the latter case, the trust can contain provisions granting the trustee the power to make distributions and a spendthrift provision. The net result is that IRAs can be stretched out for the maximum period allowed, income taxes are deferred for that period allowing maximum growth, the beneficiary does not increase their estate tax liability, and the IRA proceeds can continue to be a creditor-proof stream of income for beneficiaries.