IRAs and qualified plans create a unique planning challenge in that these assets are subject to income tax when received by the beneficiary (this is discussed more fully under Planning for Tax Qualified Plans). One way to help reduce the tax impact is to structure these accounts to provide the longest term payout possible; deferring income tax as long as possible minimizes the overall tax impact and allows the account to grow tax-free.

To achieve this maximum “stretch-out”, you should name individuals who are young (e.g., children or grandchildren) as the designated beneficiary of your tax-qualified plans and, significantly, the beneficiary should take only those minimum distributions that are required by law. The younger the beneficiary, the smaller these required minimum distributions.

Naming a beneficiary outright to accomplish this deferral has several disadvantages. First, if the beneficiary is very young, the distributions must be paid to a guardian; if the beneficiary has no guardian, a court must appoint one. Another disadvantage is the potential loss of creditor protection. A third, practical disadvantage is that many beneficiaries take distributions much larger than the required minimum distributions, often consuming this “found money” in only a couple of years.

However, by naming a trust as the beneficiary of your tax-qualified plans, you can ensure that the beneficiary defers the income and that these assets remain protected from creditors or a former son or daughter-in-law. We recommend that this trust be a stand-alone Retirement Trust (separate from your revocable living trust and other trusts) to ensure that it accomplishes your objectives while also ensuring the maximum tax deferral permitted under the law. This trust can either pay out the required minimum distribution to the beneficiary or it can accumulate these distributions and pay out trust assets pursuant to the standard you set in advance (e.g., for higher education, etc.)