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Pre-Death Planning: Roth Conversion

Eilaine Roth
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Financial planning often requires us to face our own certain demise – something that we often don’t want to do, but still a certainty that we all must face.

Among the things that we want to do when planning for the inevitable would be to make certain that our surviving loved ones have access to adequate monetary resources to support themselves, in the most cost-effective manner.  Another thing that we hope to accomplish is to make the transition as easy as possible for our loved ones.  One way to do this is to convert a good portion of your IRA or other tax-deferred funds to a Roth IRA account.  Here’s why:

By converting to a Roth account, you will make the funds in that account available to your heirs totally tax free.

Granted, your estate will also be smaller by the amount of tax that you paid on the conversion.  At the same time, your heirs will also not have to go through the rather painstaking process of managing the IRD deduction, if the estate is of a size that requires estate tax to be paid.  This will simplify the overall process dramatically, and depending upon the size of your overall estate this could be a significant.

On the downside of this, it’s likely that if you convert your account in a single year the tax paid on the conversion would be much, much higher than if your heirs paid tax on the ordinary required distributions if the account is left as a traditional IRA.

However, if you converted your account over several years in smaller amounts using a strategy like filling up the brackets, the overall tax cost of the conversion will be less, maybe even less than the cost that your heirs would experience otherwise.

You can always use recharacterization strategies to make sure that the whole process is as tax-efficient as possible. And in today’s tax climate (and market volatility) there are literally very few reasons not to go ahead with a Roth conversion strategy.

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  1. This is a great strategy from an estate planning perspective. In estates where the assets are top heavy in retirement plans funding for the unified credit trust can be difficult. The income tax implications are imperfect and messy. If the IRA is converted to a Roth, taxpayers can designate as beneficiary of such Roth a trust. If the trust can meet all the tests as a qualified beneficiary, this may be a better and easier arrangement than a regular IRA with less income tax implications.

    1. jblankenship says:

      Steven, thank you for the insights from an attorney’s perspective. I always appreciate your commentary.


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