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Frequently asked questions

We've found that people who are inheriting accounts tend to have similar questions.

Answers to your inheritance questions

What happens if I'm inheriting both an IRA and another account?

You'll follow a separate series of steps for each type of account that you're inheriting.

Can Vanguard simply send me a check to close the account?

Inheriting an investment account isn't quite the same as being the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. You can receive the proceeds of a life insurance policy in cash. But when you inherit a Vanguard account, you inherit your loved one's investments in that account.

Later, you can sell the investments in that account. But first, you'll have to transfer the account into your name.

Can I change investments during the account transfer?

The investments that your loved one chose—whether mutual funds, ETFs, stocks, or other types—must remain in the account until it's transferred into your name.

Once the account has been transferred to your name, you can change the investments.

Can my attorney or advisor complete the inheritance for me?

Yes, we can work with whomever you designate to represent you as long as we receive the proper authorization from you, including the deceased account owner's name and address, and the last 4 digits of the account owner's Social Security number.

What if an account has no named beneficiaries?

If an IRA has no beneficiaries, a surviving spouse will be the default beneficiary. If an IRA owner wasn't married at the time of death and had an IRA with no beneficiaries, the assets will go to his or her estate.

If a nonretirement account has no beneficiaries, then the account owner's estate is the beneficiary.

What if a charity is named as a beneficiary?

Charities and other organizations (like schools) that are named beneficiaries should call us, and we'll provide the forms and instructions to transfer the account to the organization.

How does probate affect inheriting a Vanguard account?

If the decedent's estate goes through probate, the property in the estate can't be transferred until the court proceedings have concluded. If Vanguard accounts are part of the estate, probate may delay the inheritance of the accounts.

How will I know when the transfer is complete?

We'll send you and any other beneficiaries a confirmation when the account has been transferred into your names.

If I inherit an IRA, do I need to take a required minimum distribution (RMD)?

If you inherit an IRA, you must generally take RMDs. But the rules for when IRA beneficiaries must start to take RMDs depend in part on the account owner's age on the date of his or her death.

Do I need a signature or Medallion guarantee?

A signature guarantee or Medallion guarantee may be required to transfer your loved one's account into your name or to change ownership of a joint account to an individual account. When you call us, we'll let you know whether a signature or Medallion guarantee is necessary to complete your transfer.

If it's necessary, you may obtain a signature guarantee from an officer of a bank, a trust company, or a member firm of the U.S. stock exchange.

We're here to help

Call 877-662-7447

Monday through Friday
8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Eastern time


U.S. Mail


P.O. Box 1110

Valley Forge, PA




455 Devon Park Drive

Wayne, PA



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Mutual fund

A type of investment that pools shareholder money and invests it in a variety of securities. Each investor owns shares of the fund and can buy or sell these shares at any time. Mutual funds typically have lower costs and are more diversified and convenient than investing in individual securities, and they're professionally managed.

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A type of investment with characteristics of both mutual funds and individual stocks and bonds. ETFs are professionally managed and typically diversified, like mutual funds, but they can be bought and sold at any time during the trading day, like stocks and bonds.

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A type of account created by the IRS that offers tax benefits when used to save for retirement.

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All of a decedent's liabilities and assets, including property (real and personal).

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The account owner who has died.

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A court procedure that validates a will and settles the decedent's estate. During probate, the estate's executor or administrator collects the estate's assets, pays liabilities and necessary taxes, and distributes property to heirs.

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Signature guarantee

A form of authentication issued by a financial institution that verifies the legitimacy of a signature and the signatory's request. This type of guarantee is often used when financial instruments are being transferred. In most cases, the guarantor accepts all consequences if the signature is fraudulent. The guarantee and instruction must be made on the same date and received at Vanguard within 30 days of that date.

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Medallion guarantee

An imprint or a stamp that provides both the assurance of a signature guarantee and a legal certification. Unlike traditional signature guarantors, Medallion guarantors must post a bond to be issued the Medallion equipment, which provides assurance that the institution can financially cover any potential losses. The Medallion guarantee is traditionally used for the transfer of securities. The guarantee and instruction must be made on the same date and received at Vanguard within 30 days of that date.