Inherited IRAs: Requirements and Tips
Mat Sorensen


August 13, 2019

If you’ve inherited an IRA from a parent or another loved one, it is likely that you have an Inherited IRA (aka, Beneficiary IRA). These can be powerful accounts, but you need to understand the Required Minimum Distribution (“RMD”) rules for your Inherited IRA to properly utilize it. The inherited IRA may be a Traditional or Roth IRA, and there are three different distribution options you may elect when you inherit the IRA. These distribution options dictate how you can invest the account. Please note that if you inherit an account from a spouse, you can just do a spousal rollover and consider the account as yours. This article is for those inheriting an IRA from a non-spouse.

Distribution Options

You will have three distribution options upon the death of your loved one to receive the funds from their IRA. In general, the best option is the “Life Expectancy Method” as it allows you to delay the withdrawal of funds from the IRA, and allows the money invested to grow tax-deferred (Traditional) or tax-free (Roth). The three options are outlined fully below:

  1. Lump Sum

The first option is to simply take a lump-sum and be taxed on the full distribution. There is no 10% early withdrawal penalty (regardless of your age or the deceased owner), but you are taxed on the amount distributed if it is a Traditional IRA. You’re also giving up the tax-deferred (Traditional) or tax-free (Roth) benefits of the account. Don’t take this option. It’s the worst tax and financial option available to you.

  1. Life Expectancy Method – Stretch IRA

The Life Expectancy Method is the best option. Under this option, you take distributions from the inherited IRA over your lifetime based on the value of the account. These distributions are required for Traditional IRAs and even for inherited Roth IRAs. For example, if you inherited a $100,000 IRA at age 50, you would have to take about $3,000 a year as a required minimum distribution each year and the rest can stay invested. The RMD amount changes each year as you age and as the account value grows or decreases. There is no 10% early withdrawal penalty when you pull money out of the account regardless of your age. Traditional Inherited IRA distributions are taxable to the Beneficiary while Roth IRA distributions are tax-free. And yes, Inherited Roth IRAs are subject to RMD even though there is no RMD for regular Roth IRAs.

There is pending legislation which the House has passed, but the Senate has sat on, which would limit the ability to stretch the IRA out to a maximum of 10 years. Even if that legislation passes, the Stretch IRA will be a good option to at least continue the tax benefits of the inherited IRA for 10 years.

  1. Five-Year Method

This option is available to all inherited Roth accounts, but is only available to inherited Traditional IRAs where the deceased account owner was under age 70 1/2 at the date of their death. Under this option, the Inherited IRA is not subject to RMD. However, it must be fully distributed by December 31st of the fifth year following the year of the account owner’s death. There is no 10% early withdrawal penalty, and distributions are subject to tax. Again, this option is only available to Traditional accounts.

Investing with a Self-Directed Inherited IRA

Yes, you can self-direct your Inherited IRA (aka, beneficiary IRA). Before you do, make sure you understand the amount of funds you’ll need to take as an RMD, and that you will have available cash in the account to cover those RMDs. As I described above, assume you are 50 and inherited an Inherited IRA for $100,000. You will need to take annual distributions of around $3,000. So, if you invest all of the $100,000 into an illiquid asset, then you will be unable to take RMDs and you will force the IRA account to pay stiff penalties. Consequently, when making a self-directed investment from an Inherited IRA, you must take into account the amount of the investment, the total value of the account, and the timeline of the investment (when will it generate cash back to the IRA). If you inherited the $100,000 account above, you may decide to only invest $70,000 of the Inherited IRA into an illiquid investment (e.g. real estate or private company), while leaving the other $30,000 to be invested into liquid investments like publicly-traded stocks, CDs, cash or mutual funds. This will leave funds available for RMD until such time as the illiquid investment generates income or is sold for profit.

Stretching out the benefits of an inherited IRA can be powerful, but make sure you plan for RMDs before you make any self-directed investments from your Inherited IRA.

Self-directed Inherited IRA accounts can be set-up at Directed IRA in as little as five minutes on-line at

Mat has been at the forefront of the self-directed IRA industry since 2006. He is the CEO of Directed IRA & Directed Trust Company where they handle all types of self-directed accounts (IRAs, Roth IRAs, HSAs, Coverdell ESA, Solo Ks, and Custodial Accounts) which are typically invested into real estate, private company/private equity, IRA/LLCs, notes, precious metals, and cryptocurrency. Mat is also a partner at KKOS Lawyers and serves clients nationwide from its Phoenix, AZ office.

He is published regularly on retirement, tax, and business topics, and is a VIP Contributor at Mat is the best-selling author of the most widely used book in the self-directed IRA industry, The Self-Directed IRA Handbook: An Authoritative Guide for Self-Directed Retirement Plan Investors and Their Advisors.

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