FEDweek

Putting Your IRA in a Trust

If you have an ample IRA, ongoing tax deferral can enrich your heirs. Poor planning, though, may rob your beneficiaries of a prime wealthbuilding opportunity.

You probably keep your IRA with a bank, brokerage firm, mutual fund family, or insurance company that acts as the IRA custodian. This firm will have provided a beneficiary designation form when you opened the account. These standard forms, though, are designed for the convenience of the IRA custodian, not to provide tax deferral to investors.

To make the most of your IRA, you must take an active role in selecting IRA beneficiaries:

* Draw up your own beneficiary form, drafted by an attorney. On this form you can spell out your instructions, in some detail.

* Send in the customized form and ask for a receipt, acknowledging your instructions.

* Keep a copy of this paperwork with your will and let your IRA beneficiary know where it’s located.

* If your IRA custodian refuses to accept your instructions, find a more cooperative custodian.

If you handle the paperwork correctly, the beneficiaries you designate can stretch out taxable withdrawals over a long life expectancy, extending tax-sheltered accumulation within the account.

Most people will name an individual as IRA beneficiary. In some cases, though, you’d prefer to have your IRA pass to a trust.

You might want a minor grandchild to receive your IRA, or you’re afraid your heir will mismanage the direct inheritance of a large IRA. In such situations, you’d name a trust as IRA beneficiary and also name the intended recipients as trust beneficiaries.

Say you name a trust with your spouse as beneficiary. Your children and your grandchildren are named as contingent beneficiaries while a charity is named to receive the remainder, after the death of all these beneficiaries.

If the trust does not contain the right language the IRA may have to be distributed over the shortest life expectancy among all the beneficiaries. In this example, that would be the charity, which has no life expectancy. Your IRA would fall under a “five-year rule,” requiring complete distribution within five years, causing a substantial loss of tax-deferred growth.

To avoid this problem, make sure a trust you name as IRA beneficiary is a “conduit trust.” With a conduit trust, every dollar that goes from an IRA into the trust must be immediately paid out to the trust beneficiaries, under the terms of the trust. This approach will keep the contingent and remainder beneficiaries from being included, for purposes of calculating life expectancy, and extend your IRA’s tax deferral.