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<<As a general rule, you must, at age 70 1/2 start taking minimum distributions from the sum total of all of your deferred accounts (401(k)'s, IRA's, rollover IRA's, SEP's, etc). However, you need not withdraw from each separate account; simply withdraw enough money in total from whichever accounts you so choose to meet the minimum distrbution amount.

You can combine all your IRAs together for the calculation and take the minimum distribution from just one of them. However, you must take a minimum distribution from EACH 401(k) plan in which you have assets. Minimum distributions are required from IRAs. Minimum distributions are NOT required from a 401(k) plan IF you are still working for that firm AND you are not a 5% or more owner.

To spread the tax burden:
The first distribution is due by the April 1 of the year after you turn 70 1/2. The second distribution is due by the December 31st of the same year. HOWEVER, you can take the first distribution in the year you turn 70 1/2.

Example: You turn 70 1/2 on January 15, 1999

First distribution calculated based on market value on Dec 31, 1998. Distribution due April 1, 2000.
Taxable 1999: take the 1st distribution before January 1, 2000 OR
Taxable 2000: take the 1st distribution before April 1, 2001.

Second distribution: Taxable 2000
If you took choice 1. Calculated on market value of account(s) on Dec 31, 1999
If you took choice 2. Calculated on market value of account(s) on Dec 31, 1999 less the first distribution taken between January 1, 2000 and April 1, 2000

If taking 2 distributions between the two tax years keeps your marginal tax rate down, then IMHO you should choose Choice 1.
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