Are the IRA distribution rules different if the beneficiary is the surviving spouse?
When the beneficiary of the decedent's IRA is the surviving spouse there is one additional option available. It is called a spousal rollover. If the rollover is selected the IRA ceases to be the decedents and instead is titled in the name of the spouse. It is then the spouse's IRA and can be combined with their other IRAs.
In almost all cases the surviving spouse will want to do the rollover. About the only circumstances under which the surviving spouse would not do the rollover is when they are under the age of 59 1/2 and believe they will need to take out distributions from the IRA. There is no time limit for electing the spousal rollover so even if the spouse kept the IRA as a beneficiary IRA until they reached the age of 59 1/2, they can always do the rollover at a later date when they are no longer subject to the early withdrawal penalty.