Understanding Tax Requirements On A 401k That Is Being Left To A Family Member

On behalf of The Law Office of Wickersham and Bowers posted in Estate Planning on Tuesday November 9th, 2021.

While it can be difficult to focus on your finances after the death of a loved one, there are tax planning issues that need to be sorted out. This is especially true if you are your loved one’s 401k beneficiary.

401k and Taxes

Upon a person’s death, their 401k plan transfers to their taxable estate. If there is a living beneficiary, the money can probably be disbursed without waiting for probate unlike the rest of the estate.

Taxes will be due on any monies received from a 401k, in addition to estate taxes. However, a few strategies can be used to delay the burden or spread it out. 

Understand the Rules

Many people do not realize that different 401k plans can have different rules. While the IRS does have a set number of limits, a plan can ultimately be more restrictive. For instance, the IRS allows you to leave the money alone without paying taxes, for up to 10 years. But, the plan itself may not allow that length of time.

There may be other rules regarding who inherits the plan. For instance, a surviving spouse may have different restrictions than a surviving child. 

For most people, the 401k will need to be taken out all at once in a lump sum distribution. If this happens, then you will need to pay state and federal income taxes. However, you may not be subject to the early withdrawal penalty.

A surviving spouse may have the option to roll the money over into a different retirement account such as an IRA.

Periodic Payments

Some plans will allow you to spread payments out over the course of a few years to prevent a significant tax burden all at once. This isn’t always allowed by the plan because there is an administrative cost involved for them.

It is more likely to be allowed if the original account holder was already receiving payments before their death.

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