By Andy Ives, CFP®, AIF®
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My brother passed away in May 2023. He had a small IRA with no beneficiary. He was 73 at the time of his death. His estate is to be divided equally among his eight brothers and sisters, ranging in age from 61 to 77. He was passionate about a small wildlife research project in his later years and some of the beneficiaries would like to transfer their benefit to the nonprofit. 1. Can you make charitable donations out of an inherited IRA? 2. Can each beneficiary, no matter their age, make the donation because the original owner was over 70 ½ and taking RMDs, or do they have to take the distribution, recognize it as income, and make the charitable donation individually?
Thanks for your input.
Bad news first, then some possible good news. Since the estate is the beneficiary, we would typically be forced to open an estate-owned inherited IRA and follow the rules applicable to estate beneficiaries. One such rule is that estates cannot do QCDs (qualified charitable distributions) because an estate does not have an age. Yes, QCDs can be done from inherited IRAs owned by living people who are 70 ½ or older, but estates are not living people. As such, in order to get IRA dollars to the wildlife research project, taxable distributions would need to be paid out of the estate-owned inherited IRA to an estate account, and then distributed to the estate beneficiaries. These dollars could then be donated to the charity, and the taxpayer would follow the standard charitable donation rules.
On the bright side, we have seen situations where IRA custodians have allowed individual inherited IRAs to be established for the estate beneficiaries. (See my Slott Report entry from October 18, 2023, “Estate Bypass – Spousal Rollover when the Estate is Beneficiary.”) Referred to by some as an “estate bypass,” these accounts must still follow the payout rules (5-year rule or “ghost rule”) applicable to the estate beneficiary, but at least the estate can be closed and the estate beneficiaries will have their own inherited IRAs. Here is where things get murky. Assuming the custodian allows the estate bypass (it is no guarantee), an argument could be made that, since the new inherited IRA owner is now a living person with an age, a QCD could be done if the IRA owner is age 70 ½ or older. There is no official governing rule for this, but in the spirit of giving – and assuming the estate bypass is allowed – I think it could be acceptable. You may want to discuss this with the attorney who is handling the estate.
Hi Team Slott,
My wife and I converted a portion of our traditional IRAs in 2010 when the opportunity first was available for higher earners and the tax liability could be spread over two years. My wife recharacterized the entire balance before the deadline in October 2011 and has had no Roth balance since then – no contributions or conversions. She continues to be a skeptic of Roth IRAs – which I use as I’ve learned from your team. She hates to pay taxes in advance. I’m concerned whether the 2010 Roth conversion started her five-year clock given the recharacterization and subsequent zero balance. Maybe I will finally convince her to do Roth conversions. She also might inherit Roth accounts should I pre-decease her. I’d hate for her to need to start a new five-year clock in either of these latter two scenarios. We are currently age 68. Does her 2010 Roth clock still work? I do have the paper statements documenting that account.
Thanks for your deep knowledge.
Your wife’s Roth 5-year clock has not started. Since she recharacterized her conversion back in 2010/2011, she essentially erased the original transaction. And since she has made no Roth IRA contributions or done any conversions, in the eyes of the IRS she has never had a Roth IRA. Interestingly, if a person were to open and fund a Roth IRA, but then subsequently take a full withdrawal and close the account, that would still start (and maintain) the 5-year clock. As for your concern about your wife needing to start her own 5-year clock in the event of you predeceasing her, that is not an issue. If you were to predecease her, the Roth IRA distribution rules allow her to leverage your existing 5-year clock.