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Did you inherit an IRA? IRS offers some breathing room on how much you can withdraw this year.


The Internal Revenue Service says many people inheriting IRAs are required to empty out the account within 10 years of the original owner’s death, but the tax agency recently gave some account holders more breathing room. 

Exceptions to this rule include the original owner’s spouse, a minor child, or an heir who is chronically ill or disabled. For everyone else, the IRS waived the penalty if the heirs choose not to take a 2023 required minimum distribution for an IRA they inherited in 2020 or later, the tax agency said in a Friday notice.

The penalty relief, which was also granted last year for the same reasons, applies to inherited accounts where the original owners were old enough to start taking required minimum distributions before their death, tax experts told MarketWatch.

“It just means for another year, you can skip it,” said Ed Zollars, of Thomas, Zollars and Lynch in Phoenix, Ariz. “It’s a very narrow case, but it could be important” — especially for the segment of people who are affected, he added.

The Friday penalty waiver applies to other retirement accounts inherited from 2020 and on, including inherited 401(K) accounts, an IRS spokesman said.

The penalty for not taking a required minimum distribution is up to 25% of the amount that would have come out that particular year.

The issue began with new federal laws in the SECURE Act of 2019, which said inherited IRAs had to be emptied out 10 years after the owner’s death (again, if the heir was not the original owner’s spouse or a minor child).

People who inherited the accounts, but did not fall in these categories, had a 10-year window to close the accounts.

Confusion over the rules

Despite the IRS’s onetime view of the 10-year rule, proposed Treasury Department regulations did require heirs to make minimum yearly payouts before finally emptying the account, said Robert Dietz, national director of tax research at Bernstein Private Wealth Management.

In an effort to bridge the confusion between the IRS rules and the Treasury’s regulations, the IRS introduced temporary penalty relief. “The big question is — are these annual distributions going to be required when we see final regulations?” Dietz said.

The IRS taxes the money from inherited accounts as ordinary income.

Thus, if taxpayers are already expecting a high income this year, they can hold off on that IRA payout —- under the latest penalty relief greenlit by the IRS on Friday — to avoid potentially pushing them to a higher tax bracket, Zollars said.

But Dietz said it may not always be in your best interest to wait before taking the IRA distributions. Taking regular distributions over time may make more sense “versus just waiting until year 10 and having more of that income at a top marginal rate.”

There’s another unknown — namely, what income tax rates will look like from 2026 onwards.

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act temporarily lowered five of seven income tax rates (the top rate fell to 37% from 39.6%). Without Congressional action before a sunset at the end of 2025, the rates revert to their higher levels — not to mention a slew of other rules for individual taxpayers.

Some people, Dietz said, who have inherited IRAs may have the following revelation: “Maybe we ought to get all this out within a three-year period versus waiting.” 


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