Using a Roth IRA as an Estate Planning Tool

A Roth IRA does not have to be used as just a retirement plan; it can also be a way to transfer assets tax-free to the next generation.

Unlike a traditional IRA, contributions to a Roth IRA are taxed, which means that the distributions are tax-free. Also, unlike a traditional IRA, you are also not required to take any distributions on a Roth IRA, regardless of your age. If you don’t need the money for retirement, you can leave all of it in the IRA to grow tax-free and eventually pass on to your heirs.

If your spouse is the beneficiary on your Roth IRA, your spouse can become the owner of the account. Your spouse can either put the IRA in his or her name or roll it over into a new IRA, and the IRS will treat the IRA as if your spouse had always owned it. Just like you, your spouse does not need to take any distributions from the IRA if they are not needed.

The rules for a child or grandchild (or other non-spouse) who inherits an IRA are different than those for a spouse. They must withdraw all of the assets in the inherited account within 10 years. There are no required distributions during those 10 years, but it must all be distributed by the 10th year.

Certain non-spouse beneficiaries are treated like spouses, which means they can treat the IRA as their own:

  • Disabled or chronically ill individuals
  • Individuals who are not more than 10 years younger than the account owner
  • Minor children. Once the child reaches the age of majority, he or she has 10 years to withdraw the money from the account.

The benefit of a Roth IRA for your heirs is that the assets will be distributed tax-free. As long as you opened and began making contributions to the Roth IRA more than five years before you died, the distributions will not be taxed when the beneficiary takes distributions.

Another consideration is that money you leave your heirs in a Roth IRA does not go through the probate process. This can make it easier for your beneficiaries to access the funds quickly. But make sure that you name a beneficiary on your account. If no beneficiary is named, the account will go to your estate and will then have to go through probate. Also, be sure to regularly check that your beneficiary designations are up to date.

Leaving your heirs a tax-free Roth IRA may not always be the best plan. In figuring out the best type of IRA to leave to your beneficiaries, you need to consider whether your beneficiary’s tax rate will be higher or lower than your tax rate when you fund the IRA. In general, if your beneficiary’s tax rate is higher than your tax rate, then you should leave your beneficiary a Roth IRA. Because the funds in a Roth IRA are taxed before they are put into the IRA, it makes sense to fund it when your tax rate is lower. On the other hand, if your beneficiary’s tax rate is lower than your tax rate, a traditional IRA might make more sense. That way, you won’t pay the taxes at your higher rate; instead, your beneficiary will pay at their lower tax rate.

Many clients have questions about who to name as beneficiaries on both Roth IRAs and traditional IRAs, and also whether to name a trust as a beneficiary. The answers to these questions depend on the individual circumstances, age(s) of the beneficiary (ies) and overall estate plan goals. These decisions are an important part of the estate planning process. You can begin this process by calling Wenzel Bennett & Harris at ( 989) 356-6128 and scheduling an estate planning consultation.

According to a recent national study, nearly a quarter of Americans aged 50 and older say they – or a loved one – needed long-term care in 2022. The findings further suggest that seniors and their caregivers could benefit from more consumer-friendly information and guidance about long-term care services, a need researchers say will grow exponentially in the future.

Finding Long-Term Care Causes Wide-Ranging Emotions

Results showed that people looking for long-term care experienced a range of emotional responses in searching for a provider:

  • 53 percent of respondents reported feeling anxious about the process 

  • 52 percent described feeling frustration

  • 23 percent said they were confident during the process of long-term care for themselves or their loved one

  • 23 percent of respondents felt “at peace” about the choice they made for long-term care

  • Only 14 percent of respondents reported feeling happy

Respondents Want to Feel Prepared When Deciding on Long-Term Care

Researchers found that respondents want advice for seeking long-term care when it comes to the following:

  • 92 percent wanted to know what types of long-term care services are available
  • 90 percent wanted more information about paying for long-term care
  • 90 percent said advice and support on long-term care would have been helpful to them
  • 88 percent needed help understanding whether their personal or health care needs require long-term care
  • 88 percent of those surveyed also said they needed help choosing a long-term care provider
  • 86 percent said having someone to listen to them when seeking long-term care services would have been important to them
  • 84 percent of respondents wanted help deciding whether to pursue in-home care or community-based services (i.e., nursing home care)

Paying for Long-Term Care

A large number of respondents reported needing more information about how to pay for long-term care.

Of the people who were surveyed, 63 percent said it was extremely important to have additional details about the various types of care options available. Meanwhile, 69 percent said it was extremely important to have further details about the cost of care and their payment options.

To learn more about long-term care services and options, it is often helpful to work with an elder law attorney in the community who can help you assess the benefits and services available to you and create a plan for how to pay for long-term care. At Wenzel Bennett & Harris, P.C., we offer a consultation called a “Long-Term Care Consultation” in which we meet with clients to help create a plan for long-term care. If the client has a need for care in a nursing home or skilled care at home, we will work with the client and their family to explain how the Medicaid program works , review the clients’ assets and income, and assist the client in obtaining Medicaid benefits, where applicable. Many families are surprised to learn that they may qualify for benefits they weren’t aware were available to them. In addition, we help clients to make sure they have a good plan in place should it become necessary for them to have long-term care in the future. This often includes having Powers of Attorney for both financial and health care needs, so that appropriate agents are granted the authority and have the information needed to obtain benefits in the future, should that become necessary. If you or a family member would like to schedule a Long-Term Care Planning Consult, please contact our office at 989-356-6128.

If you have specific questions about your situation or would like to learn more, reach out to the team at WBH here.

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