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retirement

How to Calculate Your Life Expectancy When Taking RMDs

If you're married, the IRS life-expectancy table you use depends on the age of your spouse.

Question: My wife passed away a few months ago. I had been taking required minimum distributions from my IRA based on the joint life-expectancy tables because she was more than 10 years younger than I am. I'm wondering whether I can still use the same RMD table this year, or if I need to change to the uniform life-expectancy table, which would require me to take out more money this year. I am 78 years old.

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Answer: I am sorry for your loss. You can continue using the joint life-expectancy table for this year's RMD, but you will need to switch to the uniform life-expectancy table next year.

Here's some more information about the rules for using the two different tables. Most people determine their required minimum distributions based on the "uniform lifetime" table, which you can find as Table 3 in Appendix B in IRS Publication 590-B. A 78-year-old, for example, would divide his total traditional IRA balance at the end of 2015 by 20.3 to determine his required withdrawal for 2016.

But if your sole IRA beneficiary is a spouse who is more than 10 years younger than you, then you can use the "joint life expectancy" table, which requires smaller withdrawals. The specific amount is based on both spouses' ages. For example, a 78-year-old with a 65-year-old beneficiary would divide his year-end 2015 IRA balance by 22.4 to determine the RMD for 2016. See Table 2 in Publication 590-B for the figures. Also see Retirement Distributions When Your Spouse Is Much Younger for more information.

In general, you can use the joint life table only if your spouse who is more than 10 years younger than you is your sole beneficiary for the entire year. However, there are a few exceptions to the rule, and one of them is related to death during the year, says Jeffrey Levine, director of retirement education for Ed Slott and Co., an IRA consulting firm. Your RMD can still be calculated using the joint life table in the year your spouse dies, even if you name a new beneficiary before the year is over (which he recommends doing).

For more information about the RMD rules and the life-expectancy tables, see IRS Publication 590-B, Distributions From Individual Retirement Arrangements.

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