Debtor’s (Non-Spousal) Inherited IRA Not Exempt from Civil Judgment – IL First District Rules

Case: In re Marriage of Xenakis, 2015 IL App (1st) 141297

Fact Snapshot: The judgment debtor successfully moved to discharge citations issued to the custodian of an individual retirement account (IRA) he inherited from his deceased mother.  The judgment creditor appealed, arguing that the IRA wasn’t properly exempt from the judgment’s reach.

Result: The First District agreed with the creditor and reversed the trial court’s discharge of the citations.

Memorable Quote: “We find no indication that the Illinois legislature intended to allow a judgment debtor to exempt assets that could be spent freely and frivolously at the debtor’s whim.  The [post-judgment statute] is aimed at protecting retirement assets as opposed to funds that could, conceivably, be used to supplement the lifestyle of a non-retiree debtor.”

Reasoning:

The purpose underlying exemptions from judgments is the protection of a debtor’s essential needs.  Setting aside funds for retirement is a court-recognized example of a debtor protecting his essential needs;

– Code Section 12-1006 exempts retirement plan assets from actions to collect a judgment so long as the retirement plan is intended in good faith to qualify as one under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986;

– Code Section 12-1006 is silent on the difference between a traditional IRA and an inherited non-spousal IRA, such as the one involved in this case and is the functional equivalent of Section 522 of the Bankruptcy Code which governs debtor exemptions from the bankruptcy estate;

– The US Supreme Court has held that money in an inherited IRA does not qualify as “retirement funds” under Bankruptcy Code Section 522 1

– Funds in a non-spousal inherited IRA, on their face, are not set aside for purposes of retirement;

– Unlike in a traditional IRA, the beneficiary of an inherited IRA can freely withdraw funds at any time with no tax penalty.  In fact, the owner of an inherited IRA must withdraw its funds – either in total within 5 years of the original owner’s death or via minimum annual withdrawals 2;

– Since inherited retirement funds can be withdrawn and spent by the account holder whenever he wants, these funds don’t serve the purpose of providing a debtor with the “basic necessities of life” and so do not implicate the policies that underlie judgment exemptions;

– An inherited IRA has nothing to do with retirement since the holder can spend it at will.  It is more akin to a discretionary bank account;

(¶¶ 18-26)

After canvassing the Federal bankruptcy Code, the Internal Revenue Code, the Illinois judgment exemption statutes and the foundational rationale for the exemptions, the First District squarely held that non-spousal inherited IRAs can be attached (i.e. are not exempt) by judgment creditors.

Afterwords:

1/ Exemptions serve salutary purpose of protecting debtor from destitution and abject poverty;

2/ Retirement accounts further that prophylactic purpose;

3/ This policy of protecting debtors has limits though.  If “retirement” funds can be withdrawn and spent at will, the funds won’t be treated as retirement funds and will be within a creditor’s reach.

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References:

Clark v. Rameker, 134 S.Ct. 2242 (2014); 11 U.S.C. §§ 522(b), (d).

2  26 U.S.C. § 408(d)(3)(C)(ii)(2012)

Published by

PaulP

Litigation attorney at Bielski Chapman, Ltd. representing businesses and individuals in business litigation, post-judgment enforcement, collections and real estate litigation.