How to Navigate your Inheritance

Contributed by: Nick Defenthaler, CFP® Nick Defenthaler

Receiving an inheritance is something millions of Americans experience each year and with our aging population, is something many readers will experience over the next several decades.  Receiving a large sum of money (especially when it is unexpected) can change your life, so it’s important to navigate your finances properly when it occurs.  As you’re well aware, there are many different types of accounts you can inherit and each have different nuances.  Below are some of the more common items we see that impact our clients:

Life Insurance

In almost all cases, life insurance proceeds are received tax-free.  Typically it only takes several weeks for a claim to be paid out once the necessary documentation is sent to the insurance company for processing.  Often, life insurance proceeds are used for end of life expenses, debt elimination or the funds can be used to begin building an after-tax investment account to utilize both now and in the future. 

Inherited Traditional IRA or 401k

If you inherited a Traditional IRA or 401k from someone other than your spouse, you must keep this account separate from your existing personal IRA or 401k.  A certain amount each year must be withdrawn depending on your age and value of the account at the end of the year (this is known as the required minimum distribution or RMD).  However, you are always able to take out more than the RMD, although it is typically not advised.  The ability to “stretch” out distributions from an IRA or 401k over your lifetime is one of the major benefits of owning this type of account.  It’s also important to note that any funds taken out of the IRA (including the RMD) will be classified as ordinary income for the year on your tax return.   

Roth IRA

Like a Traditional IRA or 401k, a beneficiary inheriting the account must also take a required minimum distribution (RMD), however, the funds withdrawn are not taxable, making the Roth IRA one of the best types of accounts to inherit.  If distributions are stretched out over decades; the account has the potential to grow on a tax-free basis for many, many years. 

“Step-up” Cost Basis

Typically, when you inherit an after-tax investment account (non IRA, 401k, Roth IRA, etc.), the positions in the account receive what’s known as a “step-up” in cost basis which will typically help the person inheriting the account when it comes to capital gains tax.  (This blog digs into the concept of a step up in cost basis.)

Receiving an inheritance from a loved one is a deeply personal event.  So many thoughts and emotions are involved so it’s important to step back and take some time to process everything before moving forward with any major financial decision.  We encourage all of our clients to reach out to us when an inheritance is involved so we can work together to evaluate your situation, see how your financial plan is impacted, and help in any way we can during the transition. 

Nick Defenthaler, CFP® is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ at Center for Financial Planning, Inc. Nick is a member of The Center’s financial planning department and also works closely with Center clients. In addition, Nick is a frequent contributor to the firm’s blogs.

This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Nick Defenthaler and not necessarily those of Raymond James. RMD's are generally subject to federal income tax and may be subject to state taxes. Consult your tax advisor to assess your situation. Unless certain criteria are met, Roth IRA owners must be 59½ or older and have held the IRA for five years before tax-free withdrawals are permitted. Additionally, each converted amount may be subject to its own five-year holding period. Converting a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA has tax implications. Investors should consult a tax advisor before deciding to do a conversion.