Inherited IRA's and bankruptcy

Retirement funds such as 401K's, IRAs and 403b accounts are generally protected in bankruptcy. That is, retirement accounts are not reachable by creditors but instead remain with the holder, even if the holder files for bankruptcy. IRAs in particular are often a major component of a marital estate.

A recent United States Supreme Court case held that inherited IRAs are not "retirement funds" and thus not subject to bankruptcy protection. An inherited IRA is one that a deceased owner has bequeathed to a beneficiary. The Supreme Count found that such inherited IRAs are not retirement funds because (1) the beneficiary may withdraw funds in any amount and at any time without penalty (2) The beneficiary is not allowed to contribute to the IRA and (3) The beneficiary must take a minimum annual withdrawal regardless of age.

The upshot of this is that inherited IRAs are not subject to bankruptcy protection. This could effect some divorce cases where an inherited IRA is made a part of the distribution of assets. Unlike other retirement assets, the IRA could be attached in bankruptcy and thus has somewhat less value (in that regard) then a regular IRA. Of course, the recipient can simply liquidate the IRA because the inherited IRA is not subject to penalty for early withdrawal. In any event, it pays to understand your marital estate and the potential limitations upon it. .