One of the greatest benefits of an IRA is its ability to provide tax-favored wealth for heirs. An IRA left to a beneficiary can be "stretched" to provide pre-tax compound investment returns for the rest of the beneficiary's life -- or even longer. And these can be distributed totally tax free if it is a Roth IRA.
This is the story of Al, Bob and Carl. Each cousin is the non-spouse beneficiary of his father’s 401(k) plan. Their fathers worked together at the local automotive factory for their entire lives and were all covered by the same plan. The default distribution option in the plan for non-spouse beneficiaries is a five-year payout.
Have you inherited an IRA? What type of IRA is it? Your answer will matter a lot when it comes to your tax bill. Inheriting a traditional IRA will have very different tax consequences than inheriting a Roth IRA.
Warning! The options described here are for spouse beneficiaries named on the beneficiary forms of IRA accounts. Non-spouse beneficiaries and spouses who inherit through an estate have a different sets of rules.