Guide to Inheriting a Roth IRA

The passage of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act in 2019 brought significant changes to managing inherited Roth IRAs, especially for non-spousal heirs.

As a beneficiary, your relationship with the original account owner and the age of the account plays a role in determining how you can handle the funds.

It is essential to be aware of the rules and the potential tax implications. So, let’s explore what you need to know about inheriting a Roth IRA.

What is a Roth IRA?

A Roth IRA, or Roth individual retirement account, is a retirement plan that allows individuals to save and invest for their future while enjoying tax-free withdrawals in retirement.

While 401(k)s and similar retirement plans are tax-deferred, contributions to a Roth IRA are made after tax, meaning individuals contribute already taxed money. However, the growth and earnings within the account are tax-free, and withdrawals in retirement are also tax-free.

This status provides a significant advantage over traditional IRAs and other retirement accounts subject to taxes upon withdrawal.

If you are listed as the sole beneficiary on a Roth IRA, it pays to understand the ins and outs of how the plan functions so you can avoid a costly mistake.

Benefits of a Roth IRA

There are several benefits to having a Roth IRA:

  • Tax-free withdrawals: A Roth IRA’s main advantage is tax-free retirement withdrawal. This tax advantage can provide significant savings and flexibility, especially for individuals who anticipate their retirement tax rates to be higher.
  • No required minimum distributions (RMDs): Unlike traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs do not have required minimum distributions (RMDs) at a certain age. Individuals and spousal IRA beneficiaries can leave their money in the account to grow for as long as they want without being forced to withdraw a certain amount each year.
  • Flexibility with contributions: Roth IRAs allow individuals to withdraw their contributions without penalties or taxes. While leaving the money in the account for retirement is generally recommended, this flexibility can provide a safety net in case of emergencies or unexpected financial needs.

Eligibility for Inheriting a Roth IRA

To inherit a Roth IRA, certain eligibility criteria must be met:

  1. Relationship to the original owner: To inherit a Roth IRA, you must have a qualifying relationship with the original owner. Typically, spouses, children, and other close family members qualify. It is important to note that non-spousal beneficiaries have different rules and restrictions than spouses.
  2. Age of the account: The age of the Roth IRA account also determines the options available to the beneficiary. The rules for inheriting Roth IRAs have changed with the passage of the SECURE Act, particularly for non-spousal heirs. It is important to consult with a financial advisor or tax professional to understand the specific rules and implications based on the age of the account.

Inheriting a Roth IRA can provide financial benefits and a strategy for long-term financial planning. Understanding the basics of Roth IRAs, their benefits, and the eligibility criteria for inheriting one is essential for maximizing the potential of this retirement account.

Key Considerations for Inheriting a Roth IRA

As a beneficiary of a Roth IRA, it’s important to understand the different aspects of the inheritance. This includes the types of beneficiaries, required minimum distributions (RMDs), stretching the Roth IRA, spousal inheritance, and non-spousal inheritance.

Types of Beneficiaries

When it comes to inheriting a Roth IRA, beneficiaries can fall into different categories. The relationship to the original owner and the age of the account determine the available options for managing the funds. It’s crucial for Roth IRA account holders to name a beneficiary to ensure that their savings go where they intended.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)

The rules regarding inheriting Roth IRAs and other retirement accounts have changed since the passage of the SECURE Act in 2019, particularly for non-spousal heirs. Most non-spousal beneficiaries must make distributions and deplete the account within ten years.

Stretching the Roth IRA

Previously, inherited Roth IRAs provided lifetime benefits to beneficiaries. However, under the rules of the SECURE Act, only specific beneficiaries can hold inherited funds in a Roth IRA account for longer than ten years.

These include spouses, minor children of the deceased, those who are disabled or chronically ill, and those not more than ten years younger than the deceased.

Spousal Inheritance

When a spouse inherits a Roth IRA, there are four options available:

  1. Spousal Transfer: With a spousal transfer, the surviving spouse can treat the Roth IRA as their own and is subject to the same distribution rules.
  2. Roll Over to Their Own IRA: The surviving spouse can roll over the inherited Roth IRA into their own IRA, allowing them to defer distributions until they reach the required age. The rollover method is one of the more straightforward ways to incorporate your inheritance into your existing retirement plan.
  3. Maintain the Inherited Roth IRA: The surviving spouse can maintain the inherited Roth IRA as a separate account, following the distribution rules for non-spousal beneficiaries.
  4. Convert to a Traditional IRA: The surviving spouse may also decide to convert the inherited Roth IRA into a traditional IRA, potentially allowing for more flexibility in distribution options.

Non-Spousal Inheritance

For non-spousal beneficiaries, the SECURE Act stipulates a 10-year rule. This rule requires the inherited Roth IRA to be distributed and depleted within ten years of the original owner’s death. This rule change may impact tax planning and financial management for those inheriting a Roth IRA as a non-spouse.

Some non-spouse beneficiaries, such as charities or other non-individuals, may be subject to the five-year rule.

It’s important for beneficiaries to consult with a financial advisor or tax professional to understand the specific rules and implications of inheriting a Roth IRA. By carefully considering the options and planning accordingly, beneficiaries can maximize the benefits of their inherited Roth IRA while minimizing potential tax implications.

Tax Implications

Inheriting a Roth IRA comes with certain tax implications you must be aware of. Understanding these implications will help you make informed decisions and maximize the benefits of your inherited Roth IRA. In this section, we will explore the income tax on inherited Roth IRAs, estate tax on inherited Roth IRAs, the impact of capital gains tax, and tax planning strategies to consider.

Income Tax on Inherited Roth IRA

One of the significant advantages of a Roth IRA is that withdrawals are typically tax-free. However, the tax treatment of an inherited Roth IRA depends on several factors, including your relationship to the original account holder and the IRS’s IRA rules.

If you are a designated beneficiary, which applies to most individuals who inherit a Roth IRA from a parent, you generally can withdraw the funds at your own pace within a 10-year period following the original account holder’s death. These withdrawals are typically tax-free, including any earnings generated within the account.

Estate Tax on Inherited Roth IRA

Inherited Roth IRAs are generally not subject to estate taxes because the original account holder already paid taxes on the contributions made to the account. Unlike traditional IRAs, which may be subject to estate tax if the account holder’s estate exceeds the exemption threshold, Roth IRAs do not carry this burden.

However, it’s important to note that estate tax laws can be complex and subject to change. Consulting with a qualified tax professional or estate planning attorney is crucial to ensure you fully understand the implications specific to your situation.

Inherited Roth IRA and Capital Gains Tax

Capital gains tax is another aspect to consider when inheriting a Roth IRA. While the contributions to a Roth IRA have already been taxed, any potential gains within the account could be subject to capital gains tax if not handled correctly.

Fortunately, as a designated beneficiary, you generally can continue the tax-free growth of the inherited Roth IRA by leaving it intact for the 10-year period. This method allows you to benefit from any capital appreciation while avoiding capital gains tax.

Tax Planning Strategies for Inherited Roth IRA

Exploring tax planning strategies can help optimize the benefits and minimize potential tax burdens when managing an inherited Roth IRA. Here are a few strategies to consider:

  1. Stretch IRA strategy: If you are an eligible designated beneficiary, such as a minor child, surviving spouse, or a disabled or chronically ill individual, you can use the stretch IRA strategy. This approach allows you to take distributions over your life expectancy, potentially extending the tax-free growth over a longer period.
  2. Roth Conversion: Depending on your financial situation and tax objectives, consider converting the inherited Roth IRA into your own Roth IRA. This conversion would require careful analysis to determine if the associated tax costs outweigh the potential long-term benefits.
  3. Charitable Contributions: If you are charitably inclined, consider making charitable contributions from the inherited Roth IRA. Qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) made directly from the account could offer tax advantages.
  4. Regular Tax Planning Reviews: Tax laws and regulations can change over time. Reviewing your tax planning periodically and staying updated with any tax law revisions that may impact your inherited Roth IRA is essential.

Remember, tax planning should always align with your financial goals and circumstances. Consulting with a qualified financial advisor or tax professional is recommended to develop a personalized tax strategy based on your needs.

Withdrawal Options

In this section, we will explore four common withdrawal options: Lump Sum Distribution, RMDs for Non-Spousal Beneficiaries, RMDs for Spousal Beneficiaries, and Converting Inherited Roth IRA to Your Own Roth IRA.

Lump Sum Distribution

A Lump Sum Distribution is one way to access the funds in an inherited Roth IRA. With this option, you withdraw the entire account balance in one go. While this may seem tempting, it’s important to understand the tax implications.

If you withdraw the entire amount, you may be subject to income taxes on the earnings from the account. Additionally, if you are under the age of 59½, you may have to pay an early withdrawal penalty.

Before choosing this option, consider your financial goals carefully and consult with a tax professional to make an informed decision.

RMD Rules for Non-Spousal Beneficiaries

Non-spousal beneficiaries of an inherited Roth IRA are typically required to take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from the account. RMDs are calculated based on your life expectancy and the account balance.

These distributions must begin by December 31st of the year following the original account holder’s death. By taking regular distributions over time, you can potentially stretch the tax advantages of the inherited Roth IRA and let the funds continue to grow tax-free.

RMDs for Spousal Beneficiaries

Spousal beneficiaries of an inherited Roth IRA have more RMD flexibility. As a spouse, you can treat the account as your own. If you choose this option, you won’t need to take RMDs until you reach 72.

However, if you are younger than 59½ and want to withdraw funds, you may still be subject to the early withdrawal penalty. Alternatively, you can treat the inherited Roth IRA as an inherited account and take RMDs based on your life expectancy.

Consider your circumstances and consult a financial advisor to determine the best approach.

Converting Inherited Roth IRA to Your Own Roth IRA

Another option available to beneficiaries is to convert the inherited Roth IRA into your own Roth IRA. By doing so, the account is treated as if it were always yours, allowing you to take distributions or make contributions according to the regular rules for Roth IRAs.

This option is only available to spousal beneficiaries, and it can provide greater flexibility and control over the account. However, there may be tax implications associated with converting the inherited Roth IRA, so it’s important to consult with a financial advisor or tax professional before making any decisions.

Understanding your options for withdrawing funds from an inherited Roth IRA is crucial for maximizing the benefits and minimizing potential tax implications.

Whether you choose a Lump Sum Distribution, RMDs, or to convert the account, carefully consider your financial goals and consult with professionals to make the best decision for your unique circumstances.

Planning for the Future

Planning for the future is crucial to maximize the benefits and make informed decisions for your inherited retirement funds. Seek professional advice, consider estate planning, and update beneficiary designations to ensure a smooth transition and long-term financial security.

Seeking Professional Advice

Inheriting a Roth IRA can come with complex rules and regulations, making it essential to seek professional advice from financial planners and tax experts who intimately understand the IRA rules governing inheritances.

These professionals can guide you through the process and help you understand your options. They can provide personalized recommendations based on your specific circumstances and goals, ensuring you make informed decisions that align with your financial objectives.


Estate Planning Considerations

Inheriting a Roth IRA may prompt you to review your overall estate plan, especially if your new inheritance gives you more money than you can spend in retirement. Estate planning involves creating a comprehensive strategy to manage and distribute your assets in the event of your passing.

As an inheritor, consider consulting with an estate planning attorney to evaluate the impact of the inherited Roth IRA on your existing plans and make any necessary adjustments. This can help you maximize tax benefits, minimize potential liabilities, and ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

Beneficiary Designation Updates

After inheriting a Roth IRA, reviewing and updating beneficiary designations is an important step. Ensuring the designated beneficiaries align with your current circumstances and intentions is crucial. Changes in life, such as marriages, divorces, or the birth of children, may require updates to your beneficiary designations.

By keeping the designations current, you can ensure that your Roth IRA passes on to the intended beneficiaries smoothly, avoiding potential complications or disputes.

Reviewing and updating beneficiary designations reflects responsible financial planning and ensures that your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

Remember, seeking professional advice, considering estate planning, and updating beneficiary designations are all crucial aspects of planning for the future when inheriting a Roth IRA. These steps can help you navigate the complexities of managing your inherited funds and provide a solid foundation for long-term financial security.


Inheriting a Roth IRA can provide valuable financial benefits, but it’s not without intricacies. Make sure you understand the rules and how they affect the options available to you as a beneficiary.

You must distribute and deplete the account within ten years as a non-spousal beneficiary. However, spouses can treat the Roth IRA as their own, allowing more flexibility in managing the funds.

Regardless, it’s crucial to meet with a financial advisor who specializes in retirement and inheritance.  Planning ahead and staying informed will help you maximize your inherited Roth IRA.

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