Welcome to CPA at Law, helping individuals and small businesses plan for the future and keep what they have.

This is the personal blog of Sterling Olander, a Certified Public Accountant and Utah-licensed attorney. For over thirteen years, I have assisted clients with estate planning and administration, tax mitigation, tax controversies, small business planning, asset protection, and nonprofit law.

I write about any legal, tax, or technological information that I find interesting or useful in serving my clients. All ideas expressed herein are my own and don't constitute legal or tax advice.

Updating Estate Plans for the SECURE Act

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act was enacted on December 20, 2019. The Act made a number of changes to how retirement plans function, such as increasing the age at which retirement plan participants need to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) to 72, making it easier for small business owners to set up and maintain retirement plans, and allowing many part-time workers to participate in a retirement plan. However, the SECURE Act made an important change that impacts the see-through trust rules, which will require many individuals to update their revocable living trust agreements and estate plans.

Prior to the SECURE Act, non-spouse beneficiaries who inherited a retirement plan or IRA (i.e., descendants of the IRA owner) could qualify to "stretch" their inherited IRA and take RMDs calculated based on the descendant's life expectancy. This was generally a good thing because it resulted in the maximum deferral of income taxes, and trusts were drafted to help ensure that this stretch opportunity was realized where a trust was named as the beneficiary of an IRA. I discussed how trusts can qualify as beneficiaries of an IRA in a prior post.

The SECURE Act largely eliminated the law that allowed non-spouse IRA beneficiaries to stretch IRA distributions over their life expectancy. Now, most non-spouse beneficiaries must receive (and take into income) the entire IRA account balance within ten years of the death of the account owner, regardless of whether the beneficiary or a trust for the beneficiary's benefit was the named IRA beneficiary. There are good reasons why an account owner would want to name a trust as the beneficiary of their IRA, such as protecting an imprudent beneficiary from squandering an inheritance, including inherited IRA funds. This need still exists, but because of the SECURE Act, many trust provisions describing the trustee's obligations with respect to IRAs need to be changed.

Specifically, many trust agreements drafted before the SECURE Act provided that trust beneficiaries would receive their inheritances in a continuing trust known as as a "conduit trust" for IRA purposes. A conduit trust requires the immediate distribution of all funds withdrawn from the IRA to the individual trust beneficiary. The ten-year rule under the SECURE Act would, therefore, result in trust beneficiaries receiving all of the inherited IRA funds ten years after the account owner's death. A large, mandatory trust distribution at a fixed time during a trust beneficiary's life is inconsistent with what most trustmakers intend in naming trusts as IRA beneficiaries in the first place. Even worse, however, is that trusts that are not amended to function appropriately under the SECURE Act and which are designated as IRA beneficiaries could even result in the ten-year stretch being reduced to five years.

Most post-SECURE Act trust agreements will have beneficiary's continuing trusts qualify as "accumulation trusts," as opposed to conduit trusts, for IRAs paid to such trust, which would not require the immediate distribution of IRA funds. Post-SECURE Act trust agreements will also be drafted consistent with the SECURE ACT's exception to the ten-year IRA payout rule for individual beneficiaries less than ten years younger than the account owner and disabled and chronically ill individuals, who can continue to take distributions over their their life expectancy. Disabled beneficiaries in particular may benefit from inheriting an IRA through a continuing trust, but it is critical that such a trust be calibrated to the SECURE Act to ensure the lifetime stretch opportunity is preserved. In sum, now is the time to update your estate plan so that it functions properly under the SECURE Act.