David Lerner Associates: Inherited IRAs and Bankruptcy

David Lerner Associates: Inherited IRAs and Bankruptcy

Core Facts

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A brief history

Since the enactment of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act in 2005, individual retirement accounts (IRAs) have been safeguarded under federal law if you declare bankruptcy. The exemption was initially capped at $1 million, but has since increased to $1,245,475 (as of April 1, 2013) as a result of cost-of-living increases. (The million-dollar cap does not apply to amounts rolled over from a qualified employer plan like a 401(k) -- these amounts are completely protected under federal law).

Over the years, federal court decisions have been divided over whether or not inherited IRAs are protected under the Act. To resolve this conflict, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Clark v. Rameker.

The Supreme Court's decision

On June 12, the Court made a decision on the Clark case, holding that inherited IRAs are not protected "retirement funds" under federal law. The Court came to this conclusion by noting that the holder of an inherited IRA cannot invest new money in the account, can withdraw the entire balance any time and utilize the funds for any reason without penalty, and must take mandatory distributions from the account no matter how far the holder is from retirement.

What does this mean to you?

"If you declare bankruptcy and hold an inherited IRA, you will not obtain any protection for those assets under federal law," explains Martin Walcoe, EVP of Davod Lerner Associates. "Whether they receive any protection from creditors at all (inside or outside of bankruptcy) will alternatively depend on the laws of your particular state."

Note that if you inherit an IRA from your deceased spouse, and you are the sole beneficiary, you are typically entitled to treat that IRA as your own (for example, by making an affirmative election or to the account). If you do so, the IRA should not be regarded as an inherited IRA for bankruptcy purposes. Since the Clark case dealt with an IRA inherited by the IRA owner's daughter, and not a spouse, this was not specifically addressed by the Court.

You should keep this ruling in mind as you name beneficiaries for your own IRAs, particularly if you intend to name someone other than your spouse as beneficiary. If creditor protection for your heirs is vital to you, one option is to consider naming a spendthrift trust as your IRA beneficiary. These trusts limit your trust beneficiary's ability to control the trust funds, and provide protection from your beneficiary's creditors under the laws of most states. Be sure to consult a qualified professional, as establishing a trust as your IRA beneficiary can have significant legal and tax implications.

David Lerner Associates does not provide tax advice. Before following any strategies with potential tax implications, please consult your personal tax advisor, tax attorney, accountant or other qualified advisor.

Material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only and is not intended to be used in connection with the evaluation of any investments offered by David Lerner Associates, Inc. This material does not constitute an offer or recommendation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered in connection with the purchase or sale of securities. Member FINRA & SIPC.


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Founded in 1976, David Lerner Associates is a privately-held broker/dealer with headquarters in Syosset, New York and branch offices in Westport, CT; Boca Raton, FL; Teaneck and Princeton, NJ; and White Plains, NY. For more information contact David Lerner Associates Call 1-800-367-3000 Visit our website: http://www.davidlerner.com

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Jake Mendlinger
Account Manager
516.829.8374 X 232

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