Should I put an IRA in a living trust?

A fellow caregiver asked...

is it a good idea to put your IRA in a revocable living trust? If not, why not?

Expert Answer

Steve Weisman hosts the nationally syndicated radio show A Touch of Grey, heard on more than 50 stations, including WABC in New York City and KRLA in Los Angeles. He is a practicing lawyer specializing in estate planning and is admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court. He's a public speaker and commentator who has appeared on many radio and television shows throughout the country, and he's the legal editor of Talkers magazine, the preeminent trade publication of talk radio. His latest book is The Truth About Avoiding Scams.

There are a lot of good reasons to combine your IRA and living revocable trust, but the process can be complicated so it's important to work with an attorney or other estate planning professional to make it is done correctly.

in general, a living revocable trust is a good way to avoid probate and its attendant delays and costs. It also is a good way to provide for family members when you do not want them to receive inheritances in a lump sum, but rather have the money managed for them professionally and distributed as you determine when you set up the trust.  You also can provide for the trustee to have tremendous discretion in the making of distributions to the beneficiaries of the trust. A living revocable trust is quite flexible and can readily be adapted to your own family's particular needs and situation. In addition, because it is revocable, you can change it throughout your lifetime. 

The most effective way to combine an IRA and a revocable trust is to designate the trust as the beneficiary of the IRA at your death. The rules for doing this are quite precise, but an experienced estate planning lawyer will be able to do this for you. Inherited IRAs provide a great opportunity for the continuance of income tax deferral or, in the case of a Roth IRA, the continuance of tax-free growth over the lifetime of the person inheriting the IRA. One thing to keep in mind: in order to maximize the tax savings, if more than one person will inherit the IRA, you should set up an individual trust for each beneficiary.