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Providing for the Surviving Spouse After SECURE

Contributor Natalie Choate examines how the SECURE Act affects popular strategies for leaving IRAs and retirement plans to a spouse.

The SECURE Act has upended estate planning for retirement benefits by replacing the popular and tax-saving "life expectancy payout method" with the much more stringent "10-year rule" for most beneficiaries. The surviving spouse, as an "eligible designated beneficiary," is exempted from this harsh change. SECURE decrees that retirement benefits payable to an eligible designated beneficiary may still be paid out based on a modified version of the life expectancy payout. Thus, at first glance, it appears that planning options for a participant who wishes to leave his IRA to benefit his surviving spouse are unchanged.

A closer look reveals that's not quite true.