Of a Certain Age? You May Need to Withdraw Money From a Retirement Account

You may not have to take a distribution from a 401(k) held at your current employer, however, until after you retire. (If you have a separate 401(k) from a previous employer, you will have to take a distribution from that account.) It’s best to check with your employer or tax adviser on the details, advisers say, since rules can vary by company.

Is there a way to avoid a penalty if I forget to take an R.M.D.?

You may avoid paying a penalty by taking the required distribution and filing a form with the I.R.S. explaining what happened, Warren Ward, a financial planner in Columbus, Ind., said. The I.R.S. generally seeks a “reasonable” cause for the delay, he said — perhaps the stress of an illness or the discovery of a forgotten account after a death in the family.

Still, he said, it’s best to avoid the situation in the first place by taking the distribution on time. Most I.R.A. custodians will calculate the required amount for you, and you can often choose to have the money automatically deducted on a specific date so you don’t have to worry about missing the deadline.

What if I don’t need the R.M.D. for living expenses?

If you’re fortunate enough to not need the money right away, you can simply save it, or reinvest it in a taxable brokerage account.

“You’re required to take it out,” Ms. Stanifer said. “You’re not required to spend it.”

Or consider giving the money to charity. If you are over 70½ and transfer the money — up to $100,000 — directly to an eligible nonprofit, the distribution can be excluded from taxable income, providing a savings even if investors don’t itemize deductions on their tax return, according to Fidelity. You can take a deduction even if you don’t itemize deductions on your tax return. That benefit is likely to become more attractive, financial advisers say, as more taxpayers become eligible for the standard deduction under the tax law passed in 2017.