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What happens if I inherit a stock portfolio?

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Dear Dr. Don,
My father is thinking of making me his beneficiary for his portfolio of stocks, most of them dividend-paying. Is this a good thing or not?

Our relationship has not been the greatest and not sure if he would be sticking me with a problem or is doing me a favor. I don’t know much more about how the portfolio is invested. Is there anything I should be leery about before I make my decision of whether to accept this move on his part? What do I need to do to protect my interests?

— Teresa Turndown

Dear Teresa,
From what I can tell, there’s no obvious downside to you. Could it be that your father is trying to make amends? If you determine that you don’t like how the portfolio is invested, you can change it after you inherit it.

The type of account the stocks are held in makes a big difference with what happens at his death with the inheritance. If the funds are held in a traditional individual retirement account, the distribution requirements are different from when the money is held in a Roth IRA. Both types of accounts have minimum required distributions. Although you can do it yourself, it is a good idea to work with a tax professional in determining the abilities to make withdrawals.

As long as the assets have been held in the Roth IRA for at least five years, distributions from the Roth IRA account are tax-free. You’ll owe income tax on the distributions out of a traditional IRA account. His estate is responsible for any estate taxes due, although you may benefit from a tax deduction on the estate taxes paid that were attributable to the IRA account.

If he holds the portfolio in a taxable account, then you inherit the shares at their value at the time of his death, or six months later if the estate elects that option. Called a “step -up in basis,” it eliminates any capital gains taxes from the time he purchased the shares until the date of his death. You will only be potentially responsible for any taxes on capital gains earned in the portfolio after that.

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