Slott Report Mailbag: What Can I Do If My Husband Didn’t List an IRA Beneficiary?

By Joe Cicchinelli, IRA Technical Expert

Follow Me on Twitter: @JoeCiccEdSlott

Come rain, sleet, or in this case, a Nor’easter of snow, we still deliver The Slott Report Mailbag with questions about IRA required minimum distributions (RMDs), beneficiaries when one wasn’t listed (hint: the spouse isn’t automatically the beneficiary) and the Roth IRA conversion rules. As always, we stress the importance of working with a competent, educated financial advisor to keep your retirement nest egg safe and secure. Find one in your area at this link.


I will start taking distributions in two years. Does the IRS required distribution eventually take all of your IRA?

Thanks for response in advance.


Generally, no – not for IRA owners. If you live to age 115 or older, the Uniform Lifetime Table (ULT) factor, which is used to calculate your required minimum distribution each year, will be 1.9 years. Because this factor never goes below 1, when you divide it into your prior December 31 IRA balance to figure your RMD, it will always give you an RMD that will be less than your IRA balance. This assumes you never have significant investment losses in your IRA.

For non-spouse designated beneficiaries the rule is different. They find their starting factor on the Single Life Table and then reduce that factor by one each year. Eventually the factor goes to 1 or less and the entire remaining account balance must be withdrawn.


Mr. Slott,

My husband passed suddenly two months after we were married. He had a Traditional IRA. On this account, he had no beneficiary listed. Even though I am his spouse, they will not let me re-title or rollover this account. They told me this account must go to his estate. If I am his widow and the surviving spouse, why must I cash this account and pay taxes? ?

Thank you,

Catherine Callan

A spouse is not automatically the beneficiary of an IRA account. It appears that the default beneficiary language in the IRA document has your husband’s estate as the beneficiary. Even though the estate is the beneficiary, that doesn’t mean that you have to cash in the IRA and pay taxes all at once. If your husband died before his required beginning date, which is April 1 after the year he was 70 ½, then you have 5 years to take the money out. If he died after his required beginning date, then you can take the money out over his remaining single life expectancy.

Assuming you are the beneficiary of his estate and have complete control over his estate’s assets, then you also should speak with a qualified advisor or attorney about the possibility of doing a spousal rollover through the estate to an IRA in your own name.


Even though my wife and I are both retired and don’t have any earned income, are we allowed to transfer funds from our traditional IRAs to our Roth IRAs with no restrictions on the amounts we can transfer? My wife is 67 and I am 70 years old.

Yes you can. There is no age limit to do a Roth IRA conversion nor is there any requirement to have earned income or compensation to do a conversion.

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