Tax Alert: Don’t put IRAs in a Trust!

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Estate planning is a critical aspect of ensuring your assets are distributed as per your wishes and that your loved ones are protected after your passing. Trusts are powerful tools that offer various benefits, such as protection from creditors, estate tax reduction, and enhanced control over asset distribution. However, when it comes to individual retirement accounts (IRAs), the decision to put them into a trust requires careful consideration, as it can lead to negative tax consequences. In this article, we will explore the advantages and disadvantages of including IRAs in a trust and discuss more suitable estate planning options for retirement accounts.

Understanding IRAs and Trusts

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) are financial accounts established at financial institutions to enable individuals to save for retirement with tax advantages. Traditional IRAs provide tax-deferred growth, while Roth IRAs offer tax-free withdrawals under specific conditions. According to IRS regulations, only individuals can be the owners of an IRA.

On the other hand, trusts are legal arrangements created to hold and manage assets on behalf of designated beneficiaries. The person who establishes the trust, known as the grantor or settlor,  transfers ownership of assets to the trust. Depending on the type of trust, the assets may be taxable either to the grantor or the trust itself. After the grantor’s passing, a trustee oversees the assets and distributes them to beneficiaries according to the trust’s instructions.

The Negative Tax Consequences of Including IRAs in a Trust

When an individual attempts to place their IRA into a trust, it involves changing the ownership of the IRA to the name of the trust. This action, however, conflicts with IRS rules, as a trust is not considered an “individual.” Consequently, the IRS treats this transfer as a complete withdrawal of the IRA, subjecting the withdrawn amount to ordinary income tax. For individuals younger than 59 1/2 years old, this early distribution incurs an additional 10 percent penalty tax. Furthermore, the tax advantages associated with the IRA are lost, as per the IRS’s perspective, when the funds are no longer held in the IRA.

Estate Planning Options for IRAs

1. Naming a Trust as the Beneficiary:
One effective estate planning option involves naming a trust as the beneficiary of an IRA. This allows for better management of the distribution of IRA assets to children or other heirs after the account holder’s passing. However, it is essential to note that the trust must make annual distributions from the IRA, and these distributions will be taxable as income.

2. Designating a Spouse as the Beneficiary:
When a spouse is designated as the beneficiary of an IRA, they have the option to roll over the IRA into their own account. This approach enables them to maintain the tax advantages of the IRA and continue managing the funds as they see fit.

3. Seeking Professional Advice:
While it is possible to list a trust as a beneficiary on retirement accounts, it is crucial to seek guidance from an experienced estate planning attorney. Mishandling this process can lead to unfavorable tax outcomes, making professional advice essential in such cases.

Why Retirement Accounts Should Not Be Included in a Trust

It is important to stress that retirement accounts, including IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and 457 plans, should not be placed in a trust. Doing so requires re-titling these assets under the trust’s name, leading to negative tax consequences. Keeping these accounts separate and correctly designating beneficiaries is key to maintaining the tax advantages and ensuring efficient estate planning.

Other Considerations for Estate Planning

1. Regularly Reviewing Beneficiary Designations:
Frequently reviewing and updating the beneficiaries listed on your retirement accounts is crucial to ensure they align with your current wishes and family dynamics.

2. Avoiding Default Beneficiaries:
Neglecting to designate a beneficiary on retirement accounts will result in the funds going to your personal estate upon death. This can lead to probate delays and substantial tax burdens.


While trusts offer numerous advantages in estate planning, including IRAs in a trust can lead to significant negative tax consequences. It is vital to explore alternative estate planning options for retirement accounts, such as naming a trust as a beneficiary or designating a spouse as the beneficiary. Seeking professional advice from an estate planning attorney can help navigate complex tax implications. Remember, proper estate planning is a crucial step in securing your legacy and providing for your family’s future.


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