You’ll often read news articles or blog posts about saving for retirement—when to start, how much to save, what savings or investment plan is best—but there’s an important retirement topic which often goes underreported: How these retirement accounts impact your heirs.

As noted by this article in the Wall Street Journal, “The new, higher threshold for the federal estate tax has many heirs happily thinking they won’t have to surrender a big piece of their inheritance.” But these heirs “may need to think again if they’re in line to receive a lot of money from tax-protected retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs.”

Many (if not most) retirement assets these days are IRD assets, this is “income in respect of a decedent,” and it means that the assets are income earned by a person, but not taxed or received before that person passed away. These IRD assets can be wonderfully beneficial to the investor… but they can be an unpleasant surprise for heirs, who will end up paying the taxes on these assets.

“Heirs who receive retirement accounts often pay far more tax on IRD than they have to, collecting payments from the plan but failing to take an annual deduction that is available to beneficiaries. Sometimes that’s because the tax attorney who planned the estate knew about the deduction, but the accountant who prepares the heir’s taxes doesn’t.”

Some of the solutions suggested in the article are to take advantage of a recent rule change which allows many IRD savings accounts to be converted to Roth 401(k)s. Taking advantage of this and converting the money to a Roth allows the owner to pay any applicable taxes now, so that heirs won’t be liable. Another option is to move money from the IRD retirement account into an irrevocable life insurance trust, thus removing it from the taxable estate.

“People need to refocus their thinking on what heirs are truly inheriting.” Our office can help you do just that. A little bit of thought and action now can save your heirs a lot of taxes and confusion down the line, and this is especially true if you are lucky enough to have a significant amount of savings that you anticipate passing on to your children or grandchildren.