If you’re faced with the unfortunate decision to roll over a 401k that you inherited from your spouse or someone else who named you as their 401k beneficiary, take comfort in the fact that inherited 401k rollovers are easy to complete. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provides 401k heirs with multiple options to move the bequeathed money.
If you inherited a 401k from your spouse…
Spouses receive special treatment from the IRS when they inherit retirement accounts, including 401k plans. Even if your spouse didn’t name you as a beneficiary of his or her 401k, you may still have a right to retain some of that money for yourself.
If your spouse named you as the primary beneficiary of his or her 401k, you have the following options:
- Withdraw all of the money and pay the corresponding income taxes.
- Roll the inherited 401k into your IRA. It’s easy to open an IRA if you don’t have one already.
- Transfer the inherited 401k to an “Inherited IRA.” (We’ll elaborate on the Inherited IRA option in a moment.)
- Decline receipt of the 401k funds.
If 1 of these 4 inherited 401k rollover options appeals to you, contact the company that managed the 401k for your deceased spouse and inform that company’s representative of your decision.
Why would I give away the 401k money that was willed to me by my spouse?
Option “4” mentioned above often confuses investors. Even if the money is not “needed,” isn’t it always smart to honor your deceased spouse’s wishes?
This is known as “disclaiming” your inheritance, and is commonly done to avoid higher income taxes and/or to help contingent beneficiaries (usually the children or grandchildren of the deceased) with their respective financial situations.
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If you choose this option, you aren’t allowed to touch the money whatsoever, and making such a decision is irreversible. If you decline to accept your deceased spouse’s 401k, the account’s balance will go to one of your spouse’s contingent beneficiaries, such as a child or grandchild.
Younger beneficiaries can withdraw smaller amounts of money from inherited accounts, thus delaying taxes and ensuring responsible spending of the money by the younger beneficiary. Additionally, younger beneficiaries who make inherited 401k withdrawals will have fewer tax liabilities than the surviving spouse, provided the contingent beneficiary is in a lower income tax bracket than the primary beneficiary who declined the 401k.
As always recommended by informational websites like 401k Rollover, speak with a tax attorney before attempting any sort of inherited 401k rollover transaction.
If you inherited a 401k as a contingent beneficiary…
If the primary 401k beneficiary declines to accept the money (or if the primary beneficiary is also deceased), the funds from the 401k in question will be passed on to the contingent beneficiaries.
Contingent 401k beneficiaries can do one of two things with their new-found money:
- Withdraw the money from the 401k plan, and place the funds into a cash account. You won’t have to pay an early withdrawal penalty to do this, even if you are less than 59 ½ years of age – but you will need to pay the extra income tax due to your increased yearly income.
- Roll the inherited 401k over to a self-directed Traditional or Roth IRA. This will allow you to avoid immediate income tax implications, and if you don’t already have an IRA, don’t worry; you can open an IRA and deposit the inherited 401k funds without worrying about penalties or extra taxes.
What are the benefits of combining an inherited 401k with your IRA?
In some cases, you can withdraw money from the 401k in question without having to pay an early withdrawal penalty, even if you haven’t yet reached age 59 ½. This 10% saving means the world to some investors, since they will already be forced to pay income taxes on the amount of money withdrawn.
The deceased person’s 401k plan administrator won’t let heirs keep those accounts in 401k form, so you’ll need to roll the 401k over to a Traditional or Roth IRA. IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) offer more investment options and lower fees compared to 401k plans and other employer-sponsored retirement accounts.
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Some investors have complained about contribution limits and mandatory withdrawal rules regarding inherited 401k plans, but guidelines differ depending on your spouse’s age at the time of death, the type of retirement plan that was bequeathed to you, and your current age and retirement account situation. Speak with a qualified tax attorney for advice on the best way to handle your deceased spouse’s 401k rollover.
The Inherited IRA 401k Rollover
If you don’t want to roll over the inherited 401k to your other retirement accounts, and you don’t feel comfortable withdrawing the entire balance of the inherited 401k, you can open and fund an Inherited IRA with the deceased person’s 401k.
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Many younger investors choose to open an Inherited IRA because it allows for penalty-free IRA withdrawals for investors under the age of 59 ½. Such a transfer must be made directly from the deceased person’s account to the new Inherited IRA in a process known as a “trustee-to-trustee” transfer. This prevents the heir from withdrawing money from the account prematurely, and it protects investors from future income tax liabilities.
Emotions can run high when you’re rolling over a 401k that was bequeathed to you by someone you were close to. For this reason, it’s always recommended that you speak with a qualified tax attorney before agreeing to any 401k rollover decisions regarding the deceased person’s account, because, depending on your spouse’s age at the time of his or death, as well as the type of retirement account that person owned, you might be able to delay account distributions if you so choose.
For a better understanding of your 401k rollover options, or to ask for advice regarding your 401k rollover choices after inheriting a retirement account from someone who passed away and named you as a beneficiary, visit 401krollover.com or call the website’s toll-free help desk at (800) 767-1423 today. The friendly and expertly-trained 401k rollover advisers at 401kRollover.com can help you convert your account quickly and easily, while ensuring that all IRS regulations are met. Contact 401k Rollover today and learn how empowering it feels to flex your financial muscle so you can enjoy your golden years, which is what your spouse, or the person who named you as a beneficiary, intended.