As opposed to leaving money outright to an individual, many of you have asked us regarding whether you should designate a revocable living trust as a beneficiary of an IRA.

While this is a legal question as opposed to a financial planning question, I do want to offer reasons why people may choose one or the other beneficiary designations.  Please note that I am referencing an article called “Designating a Trust as an IRA Beneficiary” written by Brian Dobbis, Director, Retirement Solutions for Lord Abbett, May 11, 2018.

  1. Because qualified retirement plans and IRAs are typically not subject to probate because of the beneficiary designations, many individuals simply choose to leave these qualified assets to their heirs outright.  With proper use of the beneficiary designation, you do not need to use a trust to have a qualified asset bypass probate.
  2. The primary reason for naming a trust over an individual as the beneficiary of an IRA or qualified plan is to provide post-death control over the assets.  This means that the individual or individuals named as the beneficiary of the trust do not have total control over the asset.  Rather, the terms of the trust control the distribution of the asset and/or its earnings.

If you choose to use a trust as the beneficiary for qualified assets, here are a few key points for your consideration:

  • Confirm with your attorney that the trust qualifies as a “look-through” or “see-through” trust.
  • Talk with your tax advisor or estate attorney regarding the income tax implications of using a trust versus an individual as beneficiary.
  • Be sure that trust documentation is provided to the IRA custodian no later than October 31 of the year following the IRA owner’s death.

Please note that the trustee of the trust is responsible for overseeing and implementing the terms of the trust.  Therefore, another key decision has to do with who you choose to name as trustee.I hope this provides some helpful information for those of you who are considering changing beneficiaries for your existing retirement plans or IRAs as well as for those of you who are naming beneficiaries within the near future.


Barbara A. Culver
Resonate, Inc.
(513) 605-2500