Michael Kitces writes about issues that arise when naming trust as a retirement account designated beneficiary. Michael’s article begins as follows:
Retirement accounts and annuities used as accumulation vehicles can create significant tax-deferred account balances over time, with the caveat that eventually the tax bill must still come due. If the accounts are liquidated during life, the account owner faces the tax consequences; if the accounts are held until death, the tax liability falls to the beneficiaries instead. To help ameliorate the potential for a large liquidation to thrust the beneficiary into higher tax brackets after the death of the owner, Congress created the “stretch” rules for retirement accounts and annuities that allow distributions to be taken in small amounts over the life expectancy of the beneficiary.
However, the rules for stretching an inherited account are more problematic in the case of a trust as the beneficiary, because a trust is not a living breathing human being, and therefore doesn’t have a life expectancy to stretch against! In the case of retirement accounts, the IRS and Treasury have created the “see-through” trust rules that allow post-death required minimum distributions to occur based on the life expectancy of the underlying trust beneficiaries. However, in the case of annuities, no see-through trust rules exist, compelling trusts to instead liquidate inherited annuities over the far-less-favorable 5-year rule!
As a result, consideration of whether to use a trust as the beneficiary of an annuity must weigh the adverse tax consequences against the favorable/desired non-tax provisions of the trust. In some situations, using an annuity’s own beneficiary designation with “restricted payout” may be a viable alternative, saving on both the cost of the trust itself and preserving the stretch. However, in situations where it is most important to limit a beneficiary’s access to a trust – such as irresponsible spendthrifts, asset protection, and estate planning scenarios – there may be little choice but to accept the less favorable tax treatment, at least until/unless the rules change!