Planning Strategies for IRA Beneficiaries

 By: John Smi
Here's an estate-planning technique that allows you to lower the tax sting to your heirs, and that reduces your retirement income in case you don't think you will need all of your Individual Retirement Account funds in retirement. It's called a "stretch IRA," or "Multi-generational IRA," a complex investment tools that allow you to extend the tax-deferred status of your IRA long after your death.

By naming your children and grandchildren as the beneficiaries of your retirement assets, you enable them to stretch out the annual distributions of that IRA over the course of their lifetimes.

Structuring the stretch
There are four primary approaches to structuring a stretch IRA; the traditional, spousal-rollover, participant-direct and the mixed, or combination, approach.

In the traditional set-up, your spouse is the primary beneficiary and your children or grandchildren are the contingent beneficiaries, however distributions and income tax deferral are extended only through the life expectancy of the oldest beneficiary. By using the Spousal Rollover Approach instead, your spouse remains the primary heir and children or grandchildren become the beneficiaries with their own IRAs. This strategy allows the distributions and income tax deferrals to extend through-out the lifetime of the beneficiaries you name. That, in turn, provides significantly more tax deferral and a much longer opportunity for that IRA investment to grow.

If neither you nor your spouse need to dip into the IRA during your lifetime, you could also consider structuring your multi-generational IRA using the Participant Direct approach, which can provide the greatest tax benefit of all.

Using this strategy, you'll be asked to break up your retirement assets into several different IRAs like the spousal rollover-except that your children and grandchildren, not your spouse, are listed as the primary beneficiaries, so you can lower the amount of the minimum distributions you are forced to take out once you hit age 70-1/2, and leave more money behind for your heirs.

Lastly, there's the Mixed approach. A combination of strategies from the stretch IRA, it is structured as a spousal rollover with the remainder under the participant direct category. You may want to give this strategy a closer look if the surviving spouse does not need the IRA assets, but reigns while he or she is still alive. Consult a qualified financial planner experienced in Stretch IRAs for more specifics on these plans and which approach is right for you and your family.

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