Inherited IRA—RMDs for spouse as beneficiary 


The IRS generally requires owners of traditional IRAs, SEP-IRAs, and SIMPLE IRAs to begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) annually once the owners reach age 70½. In general, the first RMD must be taken by April 1 of the year following the year in which the IRA owner reaches 70½. This is known as the required beginning date (RBD).

Although the IRS does not require RMDs from a Roth IRA during the account owner's lifetime, the beneficiaries designated for that Roth IRA will be required to take distributions after his or her death. If you're inheriting a Roth IRA and are considered a "designated beneficiary," you'll be required to follow the life expectancy or five-year methods explained below to calculate your RMDs.

RMD calculation methods for inherited IRAs

You must take RMDs when you inherit any type of IRA. If you inherit a Roth IRA, you must follow the distribution rules as if your spouse had died before the RBD. How you take the distributions from any other type of inherited IRA depends on whether your spouse died before, on, or after his or her RBD:

  • If your spouse died before the RBD, you may choose between two ways of calculating the RMDs—the life expectancy method or the five-year method. This choice is irrevocable.
  • If your spouse died on or after the RBD, you must use the life-expectancy method.

Life-expectancy method
The life-expectancy method requires that you withdraw certain minimum amounts annually according to calculations set forth by the IRS. Generally, it is based on the beneficiary's life expectancy. You can always withdraw more than the required amount if you wish.

Five-year method
The five-year method requires that you receive all assets in the account no later than the end of the fifth year following the year of your spouse's death. There are no minimum withdrawal requirements. You may withdraw assets at any time, as long you redeem the entire account by the end of the fifth year following your spouse's year of death. This option is only available if your spouse passed away before the RBD.

Note: If you're one of multiple beneficiaries, generally the RMD calculation is based on the life expectancy of the oldest designated beneficiary.

More information

The RMD calculation method for taking your distributions depends on the type of IRA the original account owner held and whether you choose to assume or inherit the IRA. See the table below for more information.


RMD calculation methods

  I assumed the IRA I inherited the IRA
Traditional IRA Once the account is transferred into your name, you must begin taking RMDs by your RBD (April 1 of the year following the year you reach age 70½). Generally, the calculation is based on the Uniform Lifetime Table. You can choose either the life-expectancy or, if your spouse died before RBD, the five-year method. If you choose the life-expectancy method, you can also choose to begin taking distributions by December 31 of the year following the year of your spouse's death, or delay the RMD payments until December 31 of the year that your spouse would have reached age 70½.
Roth IRA Once the account is transferred into your name, the assets will remain tax-deferred. Distributions will be tax- and penalty-free after the account has been held for five years (including the time it was held in your spouse's name) and you're over age 59½. You can choose either the life-expectancy or five-year method.

Calculating your RMD

The RMD amount is set by IRS guidelines. The amount is calculated based on a "life-expectancy" divisor as determined by IRS statistical tables. Generally, to calculate this amount, if your spouse had already begun taking RMDs, he or she was required to divide each previous year's ending balance of the IRA by his or her applicable IRS life expectancy factor. You must withdraw at least this calculated amount by the end of each year.

Satisfying the final RMD

If your spouse's death occurred on or after his or her RBD, an RMD must also be withdrawn for the year of death. If your spouse did not withdraw the entire RMD prior to his or her death, then you and any other beneficiaries must withdraw any remaining RMD amount by the end of the year. If you're unsure whether the withdrawal has already occurred, call one of our retirement specialists. (If your spouse had IRAs of the same type at other financial institutions, you may need to check their records as well because IRA owners are allowed to withdraw from one or more accounts of the same type to meet the amount of an RMD.) If you choose to assume the IRA, you will be subject to the same RMD guidelines as your spouse when you reach (or if you have passed) age 70½.


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Related topics

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Inherited nonspousal IRAs