Inherited a Roth IRA? Here’s What to Do Now

Andrea CoombesJan 30, 2020

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If someone in your life was kind enough to bequeath you their Roth IRA, bow your head in thanks. Then? Create a plan for what to do with that money.

Planning for an inheritance is always important, but it's become even more so since the Secure Act was signed into law in December of last year. The act imposes a new rule on inherited IRAs if the account owner died after Dec. 31, 2019: Beneficiaries must empty the account within 10 years of the owner's death, unless they qualify for an exception (more on those below).

Before that new law, you could stretch inherited IRA withdrawals over your lifetime, letting the money grow for decades, assuming you didn’t need it sooner. Now, not so much. Still, there's some flexibility: As long as you meet the 10-year rule, you can choose how much to pull out and when. Here’s how to plan your strategy.

Before you start making plans for this money, there’s some administrative work to get out of the way. If you’re a nonspouse beneficiary, you’ll need to open a new inherited IRA account and transfer the IRA you inherited into that account. If you inherited the IRA from your spouse, you can simply move the money into your own IRA account, if you already have one. If not, you can open one and transfer the assets in.

A note on IRAs: There are two main types. are a wonderful gift because you generally won’t owe any tax on withdrawals. However, if you inherit a traditional IRA, you will owe taxes when you withdraw money. (Check out five ) When you open your inherited IRA, be sure to open the same type of account you inherited.

There are several exceptions to the Secure Act’s new 10-year requirement. The timeline for taking distributions is different if:

If you don’t qualify for an exception to the 10-year rule, you’ll need to decide how much to withdraw and on what schedule.

This decision is easier with an inherited Roth IRA because withdrawals come out tax-free. They’re not counted in your income. (With a traditional IRA, distributions generally are treated as income. They might push you into a higher tax bracket, so plan withdrawals carefully.)

If you don’t need the money immediately, your Roth IRA inheritance could be a great opportunity to ramp up retirement savings.

If you have a workplace retirement plan or your own IRA, consider using your inherited IRA withdrawals to cover living expenses. That could free you up to contribute more of your earned income into your own retirement plan. (You must have earned income from work to contribute to an IRA, and your income can’t exceed the .)

If you qualify, you can put as much as $6,000 per year ($7,000 if 50 or older) into an IRA every year, and up to $19,500 ($26,000 if 50 or older) into a 401(k). 

If you’re already on track with retirement savings, consider allocating this money to another financial goal.

“If you inherit money or have any windfall, the first thing is to build up your cash reserves or emergency funds, then pay down debt, especially high-interest credit cards and student loans,” Wilczynski says.

There are all kinds of potential complexities to these decisions.  Consider for advice. For example, if you’re close to retirement, you may want to delay Social Security and live off your inherited IRA withdrawals for a few years. Delaying would mean higher monthly Social Security benefits for the rest of your life. 

If you’re younger, a financial advisor can help you juggle your goals and figure out the best place to put this money.

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