“Under the Secure Act, most Roth IRA beneficiaries must empty the account 10 years after the original owner's death. Unlike with traditional IRAs, however, they need not take distributions in years one through nine.”
Before 2020, leaving a traditional IRA to younger beneficiaries created dual tax breaks. The original owner reduced taxable income by making pretax contributions during their lifetime, and beneficiaries could stretch the benefits of tax deferral over their lifetime. All that ended with the SECURE Act, but there are some options, as explained in the article “Why a Roth Conversion is a Powerful Estate Planning Tool” from Think Advisor.
After the SECURE Act, beneficiaries who don’t qualify as “eligible designated beneficiaries” or EDBs must empty the inherited IRA account within ten years. If the original owner had already begun taking minimum required distributions, the beneficiary must also take annual RMDs during the ten-year distribution period.
Someone who inherits a traditional IRA must now pay taxes on the entire account balance within ten years of the original account owner’s death. This can be a sizable tax burden, especially if the beneficiary is in their peak earning years.
Roth beneficiaries who don’t qualify as EBDs must empty the account within the same ten-year distribution period applying to traditional IRA accounts. However, Roths have a decisive advantage during the original owner’s lifetime: no RMD rules.
The original owner will always be deemed to have died before their required beginning date because a Roth account can never go into pay status since there is no required beginning date for distributions. Therefore, the Roth IRA beneficiary can wait until the tenth year to empty the account, allowing the funds to grow tax-free without worrying about the tax hit in Year 10.
When the beneficiary eventually takes distributions, the original contributions are nontaxable because the original owner paid taxes on Roth contributions during their lifetime. If the five-year rule is satisfied—at least five years have passed since the original owner made their first contribution or conversion to the account—earnings will also be tax and penalty-free to beneficiaries.
Roth accounts benefit the original owner because they offer a tax-free source of income during retirement. However, they’re also a valuable tax-free gift for account beneficiaries.
Reference: Think Advisor (Sep. 1, 2023) “Why a Roth Conversion is a Powerful Estate Planning Tool”