Retirement Plan Withdrawal Requirements

Understanding your IRA’s Required Minimum Distribution rules.

As we approach the end of the year, it is a good time to review the updated rules surrounding withdrawals from your retirement plans. The SECURE Act, which took effect in 2020, made changes to the Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) rules. It is important for us to review these rules in order to satisfy the requirements and avoid having Uncle Sam become the biggest beneficiary of your retirement savings. 

Who Must Take Required Minimum Distributions?
Anyone who has a retirement account (or an inherited retirement account) must take distributions at some point. Prior to the passage of the SECURE (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement) Act, the age to begin required minimum distributions was 70. The SECURE act raised the RMD age to 72, allowing account holders to continue tax-deferred growth and contributions a little while longer. This also allows them to delay paying tax on withdrawals, assuming they do not need that retirement income prior to age 72.

You must start receiving distributions from traditional IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) and other qualified plans (such as a traditional 401k) by April 1 of the year following the year in which you turn age 72, and by December 31 in subsequent years.

Traditional accounts are those that defer your contributions from income taxation (depending on whether you qualify), and the funds grow tax-deferred while invested in the account. Upon withdrawal, though, the tax-deductible portions of your contribution and any earnings will be taxable as ordinary income.

These plans differ from Roth IRAs and retirement accounts, where contributions go in after being taxed and the withdrawals are tax-free. There are also no required minimum distributions on Roth accounts until after the death of the owner, so your money can continue to grow tax-free over time—even after you turn 72. (However, note that employer-sponsored Roth accounts do have required minimum distributions).

How Required Minimum Distributions Work
The amount of the withdrawals you must make is based on an IRS formula that takes into account certain factors, including the balance in the account, your age, and your anticipated life expectancy.

For example, to determine your annual required minimum withdrawal, you would divide the prior December 31 balance in the IRA and/or retirement plan by your life-expectancy figure that is set by the IRS in IRS Publication 590-B, Distributions from Individual Retirement Arrangements. Publication 590-B can be accessed by going to 

Because of this IRS formula, the amount of your distribution won’t necessarily be the same every year. In addition, the life-expectancy table you use can be based on different situations, depending on your particular objectives and whether you plan to be the sole recipient of the funds in the account or instead plan to leave the remaining funds with a beneficiary.

These IRS life-expectancy tables include the following options:

Joint and Last Survivor Table – This table is used if the sole beneficiary of the account is your spouse and he or she is more than 10 years younger than you.

Uniform Lifetime Table – This table is used if your spouse is not your sole beneficiary, or if he or she is not more than 10 years younger.

Single Life Expectancy Table – Use this table if you are the recipient of an inherited IRA. 

It is essential that you follow the RMD rules and take out your required distribution before the deadline each year. Failing to do so, or taking out less than the full amount that is required, can result in a penalty of 50 percent of the required amount that isn’t withdrawn.

Because there can be so many “moving parts” when it comes to required minimum distributions, it is recommended that you first discuss your situation with a financial professional before accessing any IRA or retirement-plan funds.

Withdrawals from an Inherited Account
If you are the beneficiary of a traditional IRA and/or retirement plan account, the withdrawal rules can differ, based on whether or not you are the spouse of the deceased. For instance, if you inherit a traditional IRA from your spouse, there are typically a couple of choices you have: treat it as your own by “rolling” the money into your own current IRA, or keep the money in a Beneficiary IRA.

For non-spouse beneficiaries, though, the distribution rules now require that you must have all of the funds withdrawn from the account within ten years. While you do not have to take out a certain amount on an annual basis, at the end of the ten-year period, the inherited account must be fully depleted.

This differs from previous rules about inherited IRA and retirement-plan withdrawals. Before the SECURE Act, beneficiaries were allowed to stretch out withdrawals and, in turn, space out the taxes that were due each year.

In addition, non-spouse beneficiaries are not allowed to treat an inherited IRA as their own. This means that no direct contributions may be made into the account, nor can funds be rolled into the IRA from other accounts. (You can, however, make a trustee-to-trustee transfer, provided that the IRA receiving the funds is set up and maintained in the name of the deceased IRA owner for your benefit as the beneficiary.)

Taking the Next Step with Distributions
Everyone’s financial, retirement, and legacy goals—as well as their risk tolerance and time frames—are all different. So even though there are some set IRS rules dictating what you can and can’t do with IRAs and retirement accounts, there isn’t just one single strategy that is right for all investors and retirees across the board. Thanks to the SECURE Act, unmarried LGBTQ folks who have partners should weigh the advantages of rolling over one’s own IRA into a spouse’s account. 

With that in mind, it is best to discuss your specific situation, along with your short- and long-term objectives, with a financial professional who is well-versed in LGBTQ financial planning in order to help you design the plan and the timeline that works for you. 

This article appears in the December 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.


Grace S. Yung

Grace S. Yung, CFP, is a certified financial planner practitioner with experience in helping domestic partners plan their finances since 1994. She is a principal at Midtown Financial LLC in Houston and was recognized as a “Five-Star Wealth Manager” in the September 2017 issue of Texas Monthly.
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