IRA Withdrawal Joint Life Expectancy

by Wanda Thibodeaux, studioD

Similar to other investments, you may name a beneficiary to an individual retirement arrangement or account (IRA). When you pass away, any remaining funds in the IRA will become the property of the beneficiary. If you opt to name your spouse as the beneficiary, the requirements for withdrawing from the IRA each year are different than if you had no beneficiary or if the beneficiary were not your spouse.

Distribution Basics

Any withdrawal taken from an IRA account and not repaid within 60 days is known as a distribution. This is because the companies that hold your IRA funds pay out, or distribute, your funds back to you. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires that you take a minimum distribution from your IRA after you reach age 70 1/2. The IRS has this requirement because IRAs are supposed to fund your needs during your retirement years. If you do not take out the money you have in your IRA, the funds are not meeting their intended purpose.

Life Expectancy and Minimum Distributions

The goal of the IRS with regard to minimum distributions is to help you control how much you spend in retirement. By doing this, it is more likely that you'll still have money left to meet your expenses even at the close of your retirement years. The IRS thus tries to get you to take distributions based on how many years of life expectancy you have. It divides the value of your account by the number of years it predicts you'll live. The IRS has three individual charts for these calculations, one of which is the joint life expectancy table.

How the Joint Life Expectancy Table Works

The joint life expectancy table is used only when you list your spouse as a sole beneficiary for the IRA and your spouse is at least 10 years younger than you. Instead of looking only at your life expectancy, the IRS also looks at the expectancy for your spouse, combining the number of years you both are expected to live to determine the minimum IRA distribution.


In general, when you are able to use the joint life expectancy table with an IRA, the minimum amount you must withdraw each year from the IRA after age 70 1/2 decreases. This happens because the IRS is able to divide the total value of your account by a larger number. This is helpful in that more of your money stays in the IRA with tax-deferred status and collects more interest.


Withdrawals from an IRA to which the joint life expectancy table applies still are subject to penalties if not properly handled. At the time of publication, the penalty for not withdrawing the minimum distribution from an IRA was 50 percent of the minimum not withdrawn. For instance, if the guidelines indicated that you were supposed to take out $800 from the IRA and you only took out $200, the penalty would be half of the remaining $600, or $300. It thus is not a good idea to take out less than the minimum in an effort to leave your beneficiary with more funds in the IRA when you pass away.

About the Author

Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and editor based in Eagan, Minn. She has been published in both print and Web publications and has written on everything from fly fishing to parenting. She currently works through her business website,, which functions globally and welcomes new clients.

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