(Dow Jones) Many parents want to control how quickly their children can draw down the retirement accounts they inherit-and are fixating on trusts as the answer. But setting up such a trust can be a complicated and risky process.

This area of estate planning "is a minefield," warns Jay Starkman, a certified public accountant in Atlanta. Recent rulings by the Internal Revenue Service and various courts have raised more questions than they have answered. Still, he understands why parents put up with the hassle.

"Every tax practitioner has seen parents leave a lot of money that took a lifetime to save, and then watched the children go through it in less than five years," Starkman says. Such profligacy can be especially galling when parents have paid taxes upfront to convert a traditional individual retirement account to a Roth IRA so their children's future withdrawals-and any future gains-are tax-free.

The big concern is adult children with spendthrift ways, contentious marriages or careers that leave them vulnerable to lawsuits. Bankruptcy and civil courts, which generally shield IRAs from creditors for their original account holders, have been divided over the treatment of such accounts when they are inherited.

Seymour Goldberg, a lawyer and CPA in Woodbury, N.Y., points to conflicting court rulings as another reason to use trusts. In a Texas case, a bankruptcy judge ruled in March that federal law doesn't protect inherited IRAs as retirement accounts, because their owners can't use those accounts to save for retirement.

A Florida state court ruled last year that inherited IRAs aren't sheltered from creditors in civil lawsuits outside of bankruptcy court. But recent bankruptcy cases in Minnesota, Idaho and Pennsylvania resulted in judgments preserving inherited IRA assets.

The upshot: It could be years before the courts, or Congress, make it clear whether inherited IRAs are protected from creditors.

Annual distributions. As a result, some estate lawyers and accountants are advising parents to name an irrevocable trust as the IRA beneficiary-and to name their heirs as beneficiaries of the trust.

One downside with such a trust: You have to spread the required annual withdrawals across the life expectancy of the oldest heir, rather than using each heir's individual life expectancy. That means that your heirs could lose the opportunity for a longer period of tax-free growth. Given that, you might want to name a young trust beneficiary in order to spread those distributions over a longer time period, says Goldberg.

A second pitfall: The IRS seemed to indicate in a so-called private-letter ruling issued in March that the opportunities for trustees to tweak the language in such trusts is limited. In this case, a trustee wanted to clarify in the trust's wording who the designated beneficiary was supposed to be-after the original IRA owner had died. A state court order allowed the change-but the IRS said it wouldn't.

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