Casner & Edwards

Client Alert: What You Need to Know About the SECURE Act


The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act (“the Act”), enacted December 20, 2019, and effective January 1, 2020, made significant changes to the treatment of IRAs and other beneficiary designation retirement plans, both during the life of the plan participant and after the participant’s death. This summary will focus on important considerations impacting an individual’s ability to accumulate retirement assets, transfer those assets to heirs and other beneficiaries, and implement an appropriate estate plan to maximize his or her goals. 

How does the Act impact required minimum distributions (RMDs)? The Act increases the age when an individual must begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from 70½ to 72. This change applies beginning with retirement account owners who will reach age 70½ on or after January 1, 2020, which means that if the owner turned 70½ prior to January 1, 2020, he or she must continue to take RMDs and cannot delay them until age 72. By way of example, a wife who turned 70½ on December 31, 2019, must start taking her RMDs now, while her husband, who turned 70½ on January 1, 2020, will not have to take RMDs until he turns 72, in 2021. Participants can still choose to take distributions before age 72 (if over age 59½). 

How does the Act impact “stretch” IRAs? The Act eliminated the “stretch” option for most beneficiaries of IRAs and other qualified retirement plans (such as 401(k) and 403(b) plans) who inherit from decedents who die after December 31, 2019. Historically, many beneficiaries had the ability to stretch the RMDs over their lifetimes, minimizing income tax exposure for beneficiaries and allowing assets to grow tax-free inside the plan for an extended period of time. The Act eliminated this option for most beneficiaries and now requires that accounts are distributed to the beneficiary within ten years of inheriting the asset.  

However, please note that the Act did not change the rollover options available for a surviving spouse, and as discussed below, exempted spouses and certain other beneficiaries from the new ten-year payout rule.  

Under the Act, RMDs are no longer mandatory on an annual basis, but the entire account must be distributed to the beneficiary within the ten year period after the decedent’s death. For example, it is now possible to defer distributions from the retirement plan in years one (1) through (9) and wait until year ten (10) to take the entire plan balance.  

There are exceptions to this ten year rule under the Act. In order to extend distributions beyond the ten year period, a beneficiary must be: 

1. a surviving spouse, who is still allowed to rollover an IRA to their own account; 
2. a disabled or chronically ill individual; 
3. a minor child, who cannot avoid the ten-year distribution requirement, but is permitted to defer distributions to the ten-year period that begins when she or he reaches the age of eighteen; or
4. a beneficiary who is less than ten years younger than the decedent (e.g., a younger sibling of the account owner).  

Due to the new ten year distribution requirements, individuals who had previously named “conduit” or “see-through” trusts as the beneficiaries of their retirement plan assets should review their estate plans to make sure that their plans will operate as intended under the new rules. Depending on the terms of each trust, “conduit trust” provisions may require acceleration of mandatory distributions of the retirement plan funds to the trust’s beneficiaries. As a consequence, creditor protection provisions may not be as effective as intended. However, modification of an existing trust’s retirement plan provisions may be possible to preserve the original intent and planning goals of naming the trust as the beneficiary of the distributions. Conversely, some individuals who did not name a trust as the beneficiary of their retirement plan assets should consider revising their beneficiary designations to incorporate a trust as a primary or contingent beneficiary.  

How does the Act change the age limit for IRA contributions? Previously, contributions to an IRA were prohibited after age 70½. However, the Act will now allow individuals over age 70½ to make IRA contributions, as long as the individual or his or her spouse has qualifying employment income. 

Changes to qualified charitable distributions from an IRA. Individuals over age 70½ can still transfer up to $100,000 per year to qualified charitable organizations from an IRA, with the amounts transferred counting toward the individual’s RMD. The Act provides that the total distributions made after 70½ will be reduced by any deductible contributions made after that age.

How will the Act impact distributions upon the birth or adoption of a child? Upon the birth or adoption of a child, the Act permits an individual to take a qualified distribution of up to $5,000 from an applicable eligible defined contribution plan or IRA. This distribution is not subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty.

Expansion of 529 Plan Uses. The Act also made two small but helpful changes to the rules governing education savings accounts set up under Internal Revenue Code Section 529 (“529 plans”). The first allows up to $10,000 in a 529 plan to be distributed (tax-free) to the account’s designated beneficiary, or his or her sibling(s), to pay principal or interest on qualified education loans. Notably, the $10,000 limit is per beneficiary/recipient, which means that it is available for a beneficiary only once, regardless of the number of 529 plans of which he or she may be a beneficiary. The other useful change is that 529 plans may now be utilized to pay qualified expenses related to registered apprenticeships, a category of educational program that was previously excluded.

What can you do to address these changes for your personal planning?

  • Review and potentially revise your designated beneficiaries.

  • Review with your accountant and financial advisor to determine when and whether you should take required minimum distributions, particularly if you turn age 70½ in 2020 or later. (For example, waiting may result in higher RMDs and increase taxes and Medicare premiums.)

  • Review your estate plan with an attorney and possibly make changes necessitated by the Act.


Please feel free to contact the members of the Tax and Private Client Group at Casner & Edwards with any questions on the Secure Act.

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