IRA Distribution Rules at Death

by Shanika Chapman ; Updated July 27, 2017

When the owner of an IRA dies, there are a number of factors involved when determining the distributions (if any) that a beneficiary must take. Taxes are inevitable, but there are ways to minimize them. The rules can be complicated so always make sure to consult with a financial planner.

Required Beginning Date

Whether the owner died before or after the required beginning date (April 1st following the year they turned 70 ½) will be a factor in determining when distributions must be taken.

Spouse as Beneficiary

There are 3 types of beneficiaries: spousal, non-spousal and a non Individual (i.e. a trust). A spouse as beneficiary has more freedoms than a non-spousal beneficiary, and can elect to become owner of the new IRA, in which case no minimum distribution is required. If the spouse elects to be the beneficiary, a minimum distribution will be required.

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Non Spousal Beneficiary

Non-spousal beneficiaries can either take a minimum yearly distribution (calculated via a table) before December 31st of the following year or they can withdraw the entire balance within 5 years of death. In either case, income taxes are due at withdrawal.

Required Minimum Distribution

To determine the required minimum distribution, beneficiaries select from one of 3 tables depending on when the owner died and the age and status of the beneficiary.


For 2009, an IRA beneficiary does not have to withdraw distributions.

About the Author

Shanika Chapman has been writing business-related articles since 2009. She holds a Bachelor of Science in social science from the University of Maryland University College. Chapman also served for four years in the Air Force and has run a successful business since 2008.

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