The dormancy and escheatment rules for IRAs vary by state, as they do for all financial assets subject to escheatment. However, regardless of the state, the dormancy period for IRAs is slightly different than for other types of assets. It is especially important to be aware of the terms of your IRA and the specific escheatment laws that apply to your state of residence.

What Is Escheatment?

When a financial account becomes dormant, meaning there has been no activity for an extended period of time, financial institutions are required to report the inactivity to the state.

Key Takeaways

  • Typically, dormancy and escheatment rules for IRAs differ state by state.
  • When a person's assets are inactive (often after death) over a specific period of time, the assets can be taken by the state.
  • The dormancy period for some assets is typically three to five years, but the dormancy period for IRAs is generally is longer.

Assets that have remained inactive for a certain number of years can be declared abandoned and claimed by the state, assuming the account owner cannot be contacted.

Roth IRAs, however, are often not subject to escheatment, because they typically do not carry RMD requirements.

This process is called escheatment. The period of inactivity that must pass before the state can assume ownership is called the dormancy period, and it is typically between three and five years, depending on state law.

How the Escheatment of IRAs Works

Because IRAs are meant to sit relatively inactive for long periods during the accumulation phase—which is typically the owner’s working years, during which the account accrues interest—they are not subject to escheatment in the same way as other assets.

Rather than being vulnerable to a state claim after a few years of inactivity, the dormancy period for IRAs cannot begin until the account owner reaches the age at which he or she must begin taking required minimum distributions (RMD), usually 70½.

If state law sets the dormancy period at three years, for example, an IRA can be escheated if the account owner reaches age 73½ without taking any distributions or logging any activity with the financial institution, and the institution is unable to contact the owner at the address listed on the account.