Inherited IRA’s and bankruptcy

A unanimous Supreme Court has held that inherited IRAs do not qualify for a bankruptcy exemption, i.e., they are not protected from creditors in bankruptcy. Under the Bankruptcy Code, a debtor may exempt amounts that are both (1) “retirement funds,” and (2) exempt from income tax under one of several Internal Revenue Code provisions, including the one that provides a tax exemption for IRAs. Resolving a conflict between the Circuit Courts of Appeal, the Supreme Court has held that this exemption does not extend to inherited IRAs because funds held in them are not retirement funds. For this purpose, the term “inherited IRA” doesn’t include amounts inherited by the spouse of the decedent. This decision should be taken into account when selecting IRA beneficiaries. If a potential beneficiary is under financial distress, the IRA owner should consider naming a trust as beneficiary instead. The individual could be named as beneficiary of the trust without jeopardizing the full IRA funds if he or she personally goes bankrupt.

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