Death and taxes, the old saying goes, are the only two things in life that are guaranteed. Taxes unlike passing away, can at least be deferred, mitigated and reduced. If your total estate is less than $5.45 million (2016), it is logical to believe that an individual retirement account (or IRA) would pass tax free to your heirs. Indeed this is true, but the taxable event is when the account owner withdraws money in the account. As such, depending on the exact nature of your estate, it may make sense to pass your IRA to your estate, so that your heirs can inherit your IRA. The IRA would avoid being taxed under the estate tax, assuming the whole of the estate is under the estate tax threshold. That does not make the IRA, however, tax exempt or otherwise free of tax liability. In other words, the IRA is a taxable asset, just not taxable under the estate tax, but rather under tax schema that controls distributions of an IRA, namely income tax schema.
ESTATE TAX VERSUS INCOME TAX