Much attention is paid to the favorable options available when spouses are named as IRA beneficiaries. However, a significant portion of IRA assets will end up being inherited by individuals who are not a spouse of the decedent. Many people name siblings, friends, children or others as their IRA beneficiaries. Also, IRA assets that start off with spouse beneficiaries often end up in the hands of non-spouse beneficiaries. How so? A typical scenario is for spouses to name each other as IRA beneficiaries. After the death of first spouse, the surviving spouse will often transfer the inherited IRA assets to an IRA in their own name. At that point they are likely to name a non-spouse beneficiary if they do not remarry. Because IRA assets frequently wind up being inherited by someone other than a spouse, it is critical to understand both the possibilities and pitfalls for these non-spouse beneficiaries.
When an IRA owner dies, there is no probate or other process necessary to transfer the IRA funds to the beneficiary named on the beneficiary designation form. Instead, the IRA becomes the beneficiary’s property by the fact of the IRA owner’s death. Generally, the beneficiary will provide a death certificate to the IRA custodian. The account will then be retitled as a beneficiary IRA. It is never titled just in the name of the IRA beneficiary.