How to Calculate the Single Life Expectancy for an Inherited IRA Account

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When you inherit an individual retirement account from someone other than your spouse who had reached age 70 1/2 at the time of death, existing tax law requires that you determine your single life expectancy to calculate how much money you must withdraw from the IRA for the year to avoid penalties. If the individual had not yet reached age 70 1/2, you can delay taking required distributions from the account until the year that the IRA account holder would have turned 70 1/2.

Visit the IRS website at and download a copy of IRS Publication 590 so that you can access the single life expectancy table in Appendix C.

Find the age that you will have attained at the end of the calendar year in the column on the left. For example, if you will turn 34 in November, you would use "34" as your age.

Find your single life expectancy in the column to the right of your age. In this example, using the 2011 tables, a 34-year-old would have a single life expectancy of 49.4 years.


  • The IRS also allows people who inherit an IRA to use the five-year rule, which permits you to remove money from the account as you want as long as you've distributed the entire account by Dec. 31 of the fifth year after the account holder's death.