All income the decedent would have received had death not occurred that was not properly includible on the final tax return is income in respect of a decedent.
If the decedent is a specified terrorist victim (see Specified Terrorist Victim, earlier), income received after the date of death and before the end of the decedent’s tax year (determined without regard to death) is excluded from the recipient’s gross income. This exclusion does not apply to certain income. For more information, see Publication 3920.
How To Report
Income in respect of a decedent must be included in the income of one of the following:
- The decedent’s estate, if the estate receives it;
- The beneficiary, if the right to income is passed directly to the beneficiary and the beneficiary receives it; or
- Any person to whom the estate properly distributes the right to receive it.
If you have to include income in respect of a decedent in your gross income and an estate tax return (Form 706) was filed for the decedent, you may be able to claim a deduction for the estate tax paid on that income. See Estate Tax Deduction, later.
Frank Johnson owned and operated an apple orchard. He used the cash method of accounting. He sold and delivered 1,000 bushels of apples to a canning factory for $2,000, but did not receive payment before his death. The proceeds from the sale are income in respect of a decedent. When the estate was settled, payment had not been made and the estate transferred the right to the payment to his widow. When Frank’s widow collects the $2,000, she must include that amount in her return. It is not reported on the final return of the decedent or on the return of the estate.
Assume the same facts as in Example 1, except that Frank used the accrual method of accounting. The amount accrued from the sale of the apples would be included on his final return. Neither the estate nor the widow would realize income in respect of a decedent when the money is later paid.
On February 1, George High, a cash method taxpayer, sold his tractor for $3,000, payable March 1 of the same year. His adjusted basis in the tractor was $2,000. Mr. High died on February 15, before receiving payment. The gain to be reported as income in respect of a decedent is the $1,000 difference between the decedent’s basis in the property and the sale proceeds. In other words, the income in respect of a decedent is the gain the decedent would have realized had he lived.
Cathy O’Neil was entitled to a large salary payment at the date of her death. The amount was to be paid in five annual installments. The estate, after collecting two installments, distributed the right to the remaining installments to you, the beneficiary. The payments are income in respect of a decedent. None of the payments were includible on Cathy’s final return. The estate must include in its income the two installments it received, and you must include in your income each of the three installments as you receive them.
You inherited the right to receive renewal commissions on life insurance sold by your father before his death. You inherited the right from your mother, who acquired it by bequest from your father. Your mother died before she received all the commissions she had the right to receive, so you received the rest. The commissions are income in respect of a decedent. None of these commissions were includible in your father’s final return. The commissions received by your mother were included in her income. The commissions you received are not includible in your mother’s income, even on her final return. You must include them in your income.
Character of income. The character of the income you receive in respect of a decedent is the same as it would be to the decedent if he or she were alive. If the income would have been a capital gain to the decedent, it will be a capital gain to you.
Transfer of right to income. If you transfer your right to income in respect of a decedent, you must include in your income the greater of:
- The amount you receive for the right or
- The fair market value of the right you transfer.
If you make a gift of such a right, you must include in your income the fair market value of the right at the time of the gift.
If the right to income from an installment obligation is transferred, the amount you must include in income is reduced by the basis of the obligation. See Installment obligations, later.
Transfer defined. A transfer for this purpose includes a sale, exchange, or other disposition, the satisfaction of an installment obligation at other than face value, or the cancellation of an installment obligation.
Installment obligations. If the decedent had sold property using the installment method and you collect payments on an installment obligation you acquired from the decedent, use the same gross profit percentage the decedent used to figure the part of each payment that represents profit. Include in your income the same profit the decedent would have included had death not occurred. For more information, see Publication 537, Installment Sales.
If you dispose of an installment obligation acquired from a decedent (other than by transfer to the obligor), the rules explained in Publication 537 for figuring gain or loss on the disposition apply to you.
Transfer to obligor. A transfer of a right to income, discussed earlier, has occurred if the decedent (seller) had sold property using the installment method and the installment obligation is transferred to the obligor (buyer or person legally obligated to pay the installments). A transfer also occurs if the obligation is canceled either at death or by the estate or person receiving the obligation from the decedent. An obligation that becomes unenforceable is treated as having been canceled.
If such a transfer occurs, the amount included in the income of the transferor (the estate or beneficiary) is the greater of the amount received or the fair market value of the installment obligation at the time of transfer, reduced by the basis of the obligation. The basis of the obligation is the decedent’s basis, adjusted for all installment payments received after the decedent’s death and before the transfer.
If the decedent and obligor were related persons, the fair market value of the obligation cannot be less than its face value.
Specific Types of Income in Respect of a Decedent
This section explains and provides examples of some specific types of income in respect of a decedent.
Wages. The entire amount of wages or other employee compensation earned by the decedent but unpaid at the time of death is income in respect of a decedent. The income is not reduced by any amounts withheld by the employer. If the income is $600 or more, the employer should report it in box 3 of Form 1099-MISC and give the recipient a copy of the form or a similar statement.
Wages paid as income in respect of a decedent are not subject to federal income tax withholding. However, if paid during the calendar year of death, they are subject to withholding for social security and Medicare taxes. These taxes should be included on the decedent’s Form W-2 with the taxes withheld before death. These wages are not included in box 1 of Form W-2.
Wages paid as income in respect of a decedent after the year of death generally are not subject to withholding for any federal taxes.
Farm income from crops, crop shares, and livestock. A farmer’s growing crops and livestock at the date of death normally would not give rise to income in respect of a decedent or income to be included in the final return. However, when a cash method farmer receives rent in the form of crop shares or livestock and owns the crop shares or livestock at the time of death, the rent is income in respect of a decedent and is reported in the year in which the crop shares or livestock are sold or otherwise disposed of. The same treatment applies to crop shares or livestock the decedent had a right to receive as rent at the time of death for economic activities that occurred before death.
If the individual died during a rental period, only the proceeds from the portion of the rental period ending with death are income in respect of a decedent. The proceeds from the portion of the rental period from the day after death to the end of the rental period are income to the estate. Cash rent or crop shares and livestock received as rent and reduced to cash by the decedent are includible in the final return even though the rental period did not end until after death.
Alonzo Roberts, who used the cash method of accounting, leased part of his farm for a 1-year period beginning March 1. The rental was one-third of the crop, payable in cash when the crop share is sold at the direction of Roberts. Roberts died on June 30 and was alive during 122 days of the rental period. Seven months later, Roberts’ personal representative ordered the crop to be sold and was paid $1,500. Of the $1,500, 122/365, or $501, is income in respect of a decedent. The balance of the $1,500 received by the estate, $999, is income to the estate.
Partnership income. If the partner who died had been receiving payments representing a distributive share or guaranteed payment in liquidation of the partner’s interest in a partnership, the remaining payments made to the estate or other successor in interest are income in respect of a decedent. The estate or the successor receiving the payments must include them in income when received. Similarly, the estate or other successor in interest receives income in respect of a decedent if amounts are paid by a third person in exchange for the successor’s right to the future payments.
For a discussion of partnership rules, see Publication 541, Partnerships.
U.S. savings bonds acquired from decedent. If series EE or series I U.S. savings bonds that were owned by a cash method individual who had chosen to report the interest each year (or by an accrual method individual) are transferred because of death, the increase in value of the bonds (interest earned) in the year of death up to the date of death must be reported on the decedent’s final return. The transferee (estate or beneficiary) reports on its return only the interest earned after the date of death.
The redemption values of U.S. savings bonds generally are available from local banks, credit unions, savings and loan institutions, or your nearest Federal Reserve Bank.
You also can get information by writing to the following address.
Bureau of the Public Debt
P.O. Box 1328
Parkersburg, WV 26106-1328 Or, on the Internet, visit:
www.treasurydirect.gov. If the bonds transferred because of death were owned by a cash method individual who had not chosen to report the interest each year and had purchased the bonds entirely with personal funds, interest earned before death must be reported in one of the following ways.
- The person (executor, administrator, etc.) who must file the final income tax return of the decedent can elect to include in it all of the interest earned on the bonds before the decedent’s death. The transferee (estate or beneficiary) then includes in its return only the interest earned after the date of death.
- If the election in (1), above, was not made, the interest earned to the date of death is income in respect of the decedent and is not included in the decedent’s final return. In this case, all of the interest earned before and after the decedent’s death is income to the transferee (estate or beneficiary). A transferee who uses the cash method of accounting and who has not chosen to report the interest annually may defer reporting any of it until the bonds are cashed or the date of maturity, whichever is earlier. In the year the interest is reported, the transferee may claim a deduction for any federal estate tax paid that arose because of the part of interest (if any) included in the decedent’s estate.
Your uncle, a cash method taxpayer, died and left you a $1,000 series EE bond. He had bought the bond for $500 and had not chosen to report the increase in value each year. At the date of death, interest of $94 had accrued on the bond, and its value of $594 at date of death was included in your uncle’s estate. Your uncle’s personal representative did not choose to include the $94 accrued interest in the decedent’s final income tax return. You are a cash method taxpayer and do not choose to report the increase in value each year as it is earned. Assuming you cash it when it reaches maturity value of $1,000, you would report $500 interest income (the difference between maturity value of $1,000 and the original cost of $500) in that year. You also are entitled to claim, in that year, a deduction for any federal estate tax resulting from the inclusion in your uncle’s estate of the $94 increase in value.
If, in Example 1, the personal representative had chosen to include the $94 interest earned on the bond before death in the final income tax return of your uncle, you would report $406 ($500 − $94) as interest when you cashed the bond at maturity. This $406 represents the interest earned after your uncle’s death and was not included in his estate, so no deduction for federal estate tax is allowable for this amount.
Your uncle died owning series HH bonds that he acquired in exchange for series EE bonds. You were the beneficiary on these bonds. Your uncle used the cash method of accounting and had not chosen to report the increase in redemption price of the series EE bonds each year as it accrued. Your uncle’s personal representative made no election to include any interest earned before death in the decedent’s final return. Your income in respect of the decedent is the sum of the unreported increase in value of the series EE bonds, which constituted part of the amount paid for series HH bonds, and the interest, if any, payable on the series HH bonds but not received as of the date of the decedent’s death.
Specific dollar amount legacy satisfied by transfer of bonds. If you receive series EE or series I bonds from an estate in satisfaction of a specific dollar amount legacy and the decedent was a cash method taxpayer who did not elect to report interest each year, only the interest earned after you receive the bonds is your income. The interest earned to the date of death plus any further interest earned to the date of distribution is income to (and reportable by) the estate.
Cashing U.S. savings bonds. When you cash a U.S. savings bond that you acquired from a decedent, the bank or other payer that redeems it must give you a Form 1099-INT if the interest part of the payment you receive is $10 or more. Your Form 1099-INT should show the difference between the amount received and the cost of the bond. The interest shown on your Form 1099-INT will not be reduced by any interest reported by the decedent before death, or, if elected, by the personal representative on the final income tax return of the decedent, or by the estate on the estate’s income tax return. Your Form 1099-INT may show more interest than you must include in your income.
You must make an adjustment on your tax return to report the correct amount of interest. Report the total interest shown on Form 1099-INT on your Schedule 1 (Form 1040A) or Schedule B (Form 1040). Enter a subtotal of the interest shown on Forms 1099, and the interest reportable from other sources for which you did not receive Forms 1099. Show the total interest that was previously reported and subtract it from the subtotal. Identify this adjustment as “U.S. Savings Bond Interest Previously Reported.”
Interest accrued on U.S. Treasury bonds. The interest accrued on U.S. Treasury bonds owned by a cash method taxpayer and redeemable for the payment of federal estate taxes that was not received as of the date of the individual’s death is income in respect of a decedent. This interest is not included in the decedent’s final income tax return. The estate will treat such interest as taxable income in the tax year received if it chooses to redeem the U.S. Treasury bonds to pay federal estate taxes. If the person entitled to the bonds (by bequest, devise, or inheritance, or because of the death of the individual) receives them, that person will treat the accrued interest as taxable income in the year the interest is received. Interest that accrues on the U.S. Treasury bonds after the owner’s death does not represent income in respect of a decedent. The interest, however, is taxable income and must be included in the income of the respective recipients.
Interest accrued on savings certificates. The interest accrued on savings certificates (redeemable after death without forfeiture of interest) that is for the period from the date of the last interest payment and ending with the date of the decedent’s death, but not received as of that date, is income in respect of a decedent. Interest for a period after the decedent’s death that becomes payable on the certificates after death is not income in respect of a decedent, but is taxable income includible in the income of the respective recipients.
Inherited IRAs: If a beneficiary receives a lump-sum distribution from a traditional IRA he or she inherited, all or some of it may be taxable. The distribution is taxable in the year received as income in respect of a decedent up to the decedent’s taxable balance. This is the decedent’s balance at the time of death, including unrealized appreciation and income accrued to date of death, minus any basis (nondeductible contributions). Amounts distributed that are more than the decedent’s entire IRA balance (includes taxable and nontaxable amounts) at the time of death are the income of the beneficiary.
If the beneficiary of a traditional IRA is the decedent’s surviving spouse who properly rolls over the distribution into another traditional IRA, the distribution is not currently taxed. A surviving spouse also can roll over tax free the taxable part of the distribution into a qualified plan, section 403 annuity, or section 457 plan.
At the time of his death, Greg owned a traditional IRA. All of the contributions by Greg to the IRA had been deductible contributions. Greg’s nephew, Mark, was the sole beneficiary of the IRA. The entire balance of the IRA, including income accruing before and after Greg’s death, was distributed to Mark in a lump sum. Mark must include the total amount received in his income. The portion of the lump-sum distribution that equals the amount of the balance in the IRA at Greg’s death, including the income earned before death, is income in respect of the decedent. Mark may take a deduction for any federal estate taxes that were paid on that portion.
Assume the same facts as in Example 1, except that some of Greg’s contributions to the IRA had been nondeductible contributions. To determine the amount to include in income, Mark must subtract the total nondeductible contributions made by Greg from the total amount received (including the income that was earned in the IRA both before and after Greg’s death). Income in respect of a decedent is the total amount included in income less the income earned after Greg’s death.
For more information on inherited IRAs, see Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs).
Roth IRAs. Qualified distributions from a Roth IRA are not subject to tax. A distribution made to a beneficiary or to the Roth IRA owner’s estate on or after the date of death is a qualified distribution if it is made after the 5-tax-year period beginning with the first tax year in which a contribution was made to any Roth IRA of the owner.
Generally, the entire interest in the Roth IRA must be distributed by the end of the fifth calendar year after the year of the owner’s death unless the interest is payable to a designated beneficiary over his or her life or life expectancy. If paid as an annuity, the distributions must begin before the end of the calendar year following the year of death. If the sole beneficiary is the decedent’s spouse, the spouse can delay the distributions until the decedent would have reached age 70½ or can treat the Roth IRA as his or her own Roth IRA.
Part of any distribution to a beneficiary that is not a qualified distribution may be includible in the beneficiary’s income. Generally, the part includible is the earnings in the Roth IRA. Earnings attributable to the period ending with the decedent’s date of death are income in respect of a decedent. Additional earnings are the income of the beneficiary.
For more information on Roth IRAs, see Publication 590.
Coverdell education savings account (ESA). Generally, the balance in a Coverdell ESA must be distributed within 30 days after the individual for whom the account was established reaches age 30 or dies, whichever is earlier. The treatment of the Coverdell ESA at the death of an individual under age 30 depends on who acquires the interest in the account. If the decedent’s estate acquires the interest, see the discussion under Final Return for Decedent, earlier.
The age 30 limitation does not apply if the individual for whom the account was established or the beneficiary that acquires the account is an individual with special needs. This includes an individual who, because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition (including a learning disability), requires additional time to complete his or her education. If the decedent’s spouse or other family member is the designated beneficiary of the decedent’s account, the Coverdell ESA becomes that person’s Coverdell ESA. It is subject to the rules discussed in Publication 970.
Any other beneficiary (including a spouse or family member who is not the designated beneficiary) must include in income the earnings portion of the distribution. Any balance remaining at the close of the 30-day period is deemed to be distributed at that time. The amount included in income is reduced by any qualified education expenses of the decedent that are paid by the beneficiary within 1 year after the decedent’s date of death. An estate tax deduction, discussed later, applies to the amount included in income by a beneficiary other than the decedent’s spouse or family member.
HSA, Archer MSA, or a Medicare Advantage MSA. The treatment of an HSA, Archer MSA, or a Medicare Advantage MSA, at the death of the account holder depends on who acquires the interest in the account. If the decedent’s estate acquired the interest, see the discussion under Final Return for Decedent, earlier.
If the decedent’s spouse is the designated beneficiary of the account, the account becomes that spouse’s Archer MSA. It is subject to the rules discussed in Publication 969.
Any other beneficiary (including a spouse that is not the designated beneficiary) must include in income the fair market value of the assets in the account on the decedent’s date of death. This amount must be reported for the beneficiary’s tax year that includes the decedent’s date of death. The amount included in income is reduced by any qualified medical expenses for the decedent that are paid by the beneficiary within 1 year after the decedent’s date of death. An estate tax deduction, discussed later, applies to the amount included in income by a beneficiary other than the decedent’s spouse.
Keywords: IRD, Income in Respect of a Decedent, Inherited IRA tax help, tax help with stretch IRA
About Mike Habib, EA
Mike Habib is an IRS licensed Enrolled Agent who concentrates his tax practice on helping individuals and businesses solve their IRS & State tax problems. Mike has over 20 years experience in taxation and financial advisory to individuals, small businesses and fortune 500 companies.
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