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1) [Pub 590] says that when the Roth owner dies, the heirs must either take an annuity within one year or the entire balance within five years.

No, it doesn't, but I can see how you reached that conclusion. There are three choices, not two:

1. All within 5 years
2. Annuitize within 1 year
3. Required Minimum Distributions (RMD's) based on the beneficiary's life expectancy. These can go on throughout the heir's lifetime.

If you go back to Chapter 1 and read about the rules for beneficiaries it should be clearer.

2) It says when the Roth owner dies, the minimum distribution rules that apply to Traditional IRAs apply to Roth IRAs as if the owner died before the beginning date, as per another section. Reading that section states there's an "additional" 10% tax that applies to any withdrawals before 59 1/2.

That penalty never applies to inherited IRAs, no matter the age of the beneficiary. See the Exceptions to the penalty on page 49.

On page 37 it says that distributions from Traditional IRAs are taxable the year they're paid.

What I don't know is the tax implications for taking these distributions. Say I have a balance of 100K. If my son takes the entire balance in the first year, does his income increase by 100K? Does he pay taxes on whatever he earned normally, plus a 100K income boost, plus an additional 10% on the 100K portion?

Yes, except for the penalty.

If the above is correct, since it says he can take it over 5 years, is it an option to split it up into 5 payments of 20k and soften the tax blow a bit?

As noted before, he can spread it over a lot longer period than 5 years.

If the 5 year rule applies, it can be 100% in the first year, 100% in the 5th year, or anything else that adds up to 100% within 5 years.

While your subject line mentions Roth, your message talks about traditional IRAs, so I'm not sure whether you realize that the taxability of distributions to beneficiaries is different between the two even though the rules for calculating required distributions are the same. Distributions from traditional IRAs are fully taxable unless there's after-tax money in the IRA.

If the decedent had satisfied the 5 year aging required for qualified Roth distributions, a distribution to the beneficiary is qualified, i.e., tax-free. If the 5 year aging hasn't been satisfied at the owner's death, the beneficiary continues the same 5 year clock to determine when distributions become qualified.

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