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Should I Inherit My Deceased Spouse’s Traditional IRA?

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

There are a few options a client can consider when they inherit an IRA from their spouse. The best option for our clients will depend upon a variety of factors, and the relevant rules and decision points can be confusing.

Common issues that arise when a client inherits a traditional IRA from a spouse:

  • Inheriting the IRA vs. rolling the IRA into the client’s own traditional IRA

  • 10-Year Rule vs. Life Expectancy Rule

  • RMD calculations

  • Considerations based on age and income needs

In times of grief and loss, handling financial matters may seem overwhelming. However, understanding the options available when inheriting an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) from a deceased spouse is crucial. In this article, we will explore the complexities and recent rule changes surrounding inherited IRAs, providing a helpful flowchart to guide you through the decision-making process. Whether you're considering inheriting the IRA or rolling it into your own, we aim to shed light on important factors such as required minimum distributions (RMDs), age considerations, and income needs. At Gateway Financial, we believe in providing open and valuable information to our clients, and we encourage you to reach out to us for personalized guidance.


Exploring the Flowchart: Should I Inherit My Deceased Spouse's Traditional IRA?

  1. Determining Sole Beneficiary Status: The first step is to establish whether you are the sole beneficiary of your spouse's traditional IRA. Generally, according to the rules and laws, you should be the designated beneficiary. However, it's essential to ensure that no disinheritance of the IRA beneficiary claim has occurred.

  2. Considering the Required Beginning Date (RBD): Next, it's important to determine if your spouse passed away before reaching the required beginning date (RBD). If the answer is no, you need to move forward in the flowchart.

  3. Satisfying the RMD Requirement: If your spouse did not satisfy the required minimum distribution (RMD) for the current year before their passing, you must ensure that the remaining RMD is withdrawn within the current year. Compliance with RMD rules is critical to avoid potential penalties.

  4. Evaluating Income Needs and Age: To decide whether to inherit the IRA or roll it into your own traditional IRA, you should assess your income needs and age. If you require income and are younger than 59 and a half, inheriting the IRA can be beneficial since distributions from an inherited IRA are not subject to a penalty. This option can provide essential income, especially if you don't have other benefits like child benefits.

  5. Age Comparison with the Deceased Spouse: If you don't require immediate income and you are older than your deceased spouse, it may be more advantageous to roll over the inherited IRA into your own IRA. This is because the RMD will be lower compared to inheriting the IRA directly.

  6. Account for Life Expectancy: The RMD calculation depends on your life expectancy or your spouse's life expectancy at the time of their passing. The single life table is used for these calculations, but it's important to stay updated with the IRS tables, which can change over time.

Flexibility in Decision-Making:

Remember that the decision you make regarding inheriting or rolling over the IRA is not set in stone. You can always choose to roll the account into your own IRA at a later point if circumstances change or new considerations arise. It's crucial to work with a knowledgeable financial planner who can guide you through these decisions and ensure they align with your long-term goals.


Navigating the Difficult Decisions:

Inheriting an IRA while grieving can be overwhelming. It is essential to take your time and prioritize the healing process, spending time with loved ones and friends. Financial decisions do not need to be rushed within the first 30 days. Instead, seek the support of a compassionate and experienced financial planner who can assist you in navigating the complexities and creating a plan that suits your specific situation.


Inheriting an IRA from a deceased spouse requires careful consideration of various factors and rules that govern these accounts. Understanding your options, such as inheriting the IRA or rolling it over into your own, is vital for financial planning. By following the flowchart provided in this article, you can gain a better understanding of which path may be best for you. Remember, seeking professional guidance from a financial planner can provide invaluable support during this challenging time.

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