What To Do With Inherited Annuities

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

Inheriting an annuity can feel like a financial windfall, providing a semblance of financial security in an often-uncertain world. However, as with many aspects of financial planning and wealth transfer, the question of taxation looms large. Are inherited annuities taxable? If so, how can one potentially minimize the tax burden? To guide you through these murky waters, we’ll delve into the complexities of the taxation of inherited annuities, addressing key regulations, exceptions, and strategies.

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Unpacking the Tax Code: Understanding Inherited Annuities

An inherited annuity is an annuity a beneficiary receives upon the original owner’s death. You might inherit an annuity from a deceased parent, spouse, or other family member, and how these funds are taxed can significantly influence your financial planning. Depending on the type (qualified or nonqualified) and specific contract terms, it can provide a stream of income to the beneficiary over time, subject to various tax implications and distribution rules.

Taxes On An Inherited Annuities

The Secure Act and Its Implications

Introduced in 2019, the Secure Act drastically changed the landscape for inherited retirement accounts, including annuities. Before the Secure Act, beneficiaries could ‘stretch’ distributions over their lifetime, reducing the immediate tax impact. However, most non-spousal beneficiaries of inherited qualified annuities must now withdraw all funds within a 10-year window, potentially resulting in a higher tax burden.

Nonqualified vs. Qualified Annuities

The tax treatment of inherited annuities also depends on whether they’re ‘qualified’ or ‘nonqualified.’ Qualified annuities are purchased with pre-tax dollars, often within a retirement account like an IRA, 401k, 403b, etc. The entire distribution from these annuities is taxable. On the other hand, nonqualified annuities are purchased with after-tax dollars, and only the earnings portion of the distribution is subject to tax.

Inherited Annuity Options: Qualified and Nonqualified

Qualified Annuities

Qualified annuities are funded with pre-tax dollars, often as part of an individual retirement account (IRA). Here are the options if you inherit a qualified annuity:

  • Lump Sum Payout: You can withdraw all the funds at once. However, this could push you into a higher tax bracket and result in a hefty tax bill since the entire amount is taxable as ordinary income.
  • 10-Year Rule: Introduced by the Secure Act of 2019, this rule requires most non-spouse beneficiaries to withdraw all funds within ten years of the original owner’s death. You can take distributions at any time during this period as long as the account is emptied by the end of the tenth year.
  • Spousal Continuance: This option is exclusively for surviving spouses. The spouse can assume ownership of the annuity, allowing them to defer distributions until the annuity’s original payout schedule begins. This effectively avoids the 10-year payout rule.
 How Do I Avoid Paying Taxes On An Inherited Annuity

Nonqualified Annuities

Nonqualified annuities are funded with after-tax dollars. When you inherit a nonqualified annuity, the options are slightly different:

  • Lump Sum Payout: You can take all the funds simultaneously with a qualified annuity. However, only the earnings portion of the annuity will be subject to taxes.
  • 5-Year Rule: Some nonqualified annuities may still be subject to this rule, depending on the annuity contract’s stipulations. It requires all funds to be withdrawn within five years of the original owner’s death.
  • Life Expectancy Option: For nonqualified annuities, some non-spousal beneficiaries may have the option to stretch distributions over their lifetime, depending on the specific contract terms. The earnings portion of each payout will be taxable.
  • Spousal Continuance: As with qualified annuities, the surviving spouse can continue the annuity contract as the original owner, deferring distributions and potentially allowing for more tax-efficient payouts.

Inheriting Annuities: Tax Implications and Exceptions

Taxation isn’t always cut and dried when it comes to inherited annuities. A few exceptions and unique circumstances might change how your inherited annuity is taxed.

Spousal Continuance: A Special Case

Spouses who inherit an annuity have a unique option called ‘spousal continuance.’ This allows the surviving spouse to continue the annuity contract as the original owner, avoiding any payout rule and potential immediate tax implications.

Inherited Annuity Tax Calculator

The 5-Year Rule and Lump Sum Payouts

While the Secure Act enforces a 10-year payout period for most inherited nonqualified annuities, some older contracts still follow the ‘5-Year Rule,’ which means all funds must be withdrawn within five years. Moreover, opting for a lump-sum payout might seem attractive but could catapult you into a higher tax bracket, resulting in more taxes owed.

Mitigating the Tax Burden: Strategic Planning and Wise Decisions

Understanding the tax implications of inherited annuities is the first step; navigating these rules to minimize your tax burden is the next. Consider seeking advice from a financial advisor or tax professional to help you make informed decisions.

Hot Tip: If you’re a living annuity owner reading this guide, consider purchasing a new or replacing an old annuity with a new deferred annuity that offers an enhanced death benefit to help offer most, if not all, taxes your beneficiaries will have to pay at the time of your death.

Next Steps

Inheriting an annuity can be complex, and the associated tax implications can add to the confusion. However, with a solid understanding of the tax laws, careful planning, and potentially some professional advice, you can manage your inherited annuity strategically to minimize the tax burden. Remember, knowledge is power—and in this case, it could also mean significant tax savings.

Taxes On An Inherited Annuity

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How does the Secure Act of 2019 change the options for inherited annuities?

The Secure Act of 2019 does not affect annuities as an investment, but it does change the options available to beneficiaries of inherited annuities. It requires non-spouse beneficiaries to withdraw all the money in the account within ten years after the original owner’s death. If you are inheriting an annuity, you have two main options: taking a lump-sum payout or stretching out the payments over ten years.

What is spousal continuance?

Spousal continuance allows spouses to continue receiving the annuity payments after the original owner’s death. This option allows the surviving spouse to take ownership of the policy and proceed with payments. The spouse can receive a lump sum or stretch out the payments over time.

Is the tax rate the same on inherited annuities?

The tax rate on inherited annuities depends on the type of annuity you’re receiving and your personal tax situation. Generally speaking, income received from the contract is taxed at ordinary income rates. If you are taking a lump sum payment, you may have to pay taxes on any gains in the policy and state and federal taxes. It is essential to consult with a qualified financial advisor or tax attorney to determine the best course of action.

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

I’m a licensed financial professional focusing on annuities and insurance for more than a decade. My former role was training financial advisors, including for a Fortune Global 500 insurance company. I’ve been featured in Time Magazine, Yahoo! Finance, MSN, SmartAsset, Entrepreneur, Bloomberg, The Simple Dollar, U.S. News and World Report, and Women’s Health Magazine.

The Annuity Expert is an online insurance agency servicing consumers across the United States. My goal is to help you take the guesswork out of retirement planning or find the best insurance coverage at the cheapest rates for you. 

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