Inherited Annuity: What Are My Options?

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.

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., mirroring the investment strategies used in the stock market. 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 Annuities

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.

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.
What Are Inherited Annuities

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.

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.

What Is An Inherited Annuitiy

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.

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Non Qualified Annuity Inheritance

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.

Inherited Annuity

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can an annuity be inherited?

An annuity can be inherited by the beneficiary of the annuity owner’s choosing. The beneficiary can be anyone, including a family member, friend, or charity.

What happens if you inherit an annuity?

Inheriting annuity proceeds is not tax-free; all profits are subject to taxation as ordinary income. If the beneficiary opts for one lump sum payment, they must pay taxes immediately – this is the only circumstance in which paying at once applies.

How do you handle an inherited annuity?

If you find yourself in possession of an inherited annuity, your choices are plentiful. First, you can keep it as is and let the payments continue over time. You could also take a one-time lump sum payout or spread the money over multiple years. Finally, for more flexibility when dealing with taxes, consider performing a 1035 exchange and rolling the funds into an inherited IRA instead; this will give you access to various investment options for greater returns on your investment.

Does an annuity end when a person dies?

If the plan were set up on a joint life basis, your beneficiary would continue receiving an allotment of the income you were already getting. However, payments would cease upon death if it’s a single-life annuity. So consider which option is best for you and those who depend on your financial stability.

Does an inherited annuity count as income?

Absolutely! Although your tax-deferred annuity income is subject to taxation, plenty of payout options may reduce the amount you owe in taxes. So maximize these opportunities and map out a plan for successful financial management!

*Disclosure: Some of the links in this guide may be affiliate links. I may receive a commission at no cost if you purchase a policy. It helps us keep the lights on!

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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