What options does a spouse have? A surviving spouse has the most options of any beneficiary. Spousal beneficiaries also have the unique “treat as your own” option that is not available to non-spouse beneficiaries.
This “treat as your own” option can be accomplished by re-titling the deceased spouse’s IRA or simply transferring the IRA balance to the surviving spouse’s own IRA. A surviving spouse may also be deemed as having elected to treat the IRA as his or her own if he or she fails to take RMDs as a beneficiary within the applicable deadline or if the surviving spouse makes contributions to the IRA.
This option is only available to a surviving spouse who is the sole primary beneficiary. If there happens to be an additional designated primary beneficiary (i.e., a child or grandchild), the same result can be achieved by transferring the surviving spouse’s portion of the IRA to his or her own IRA.
The option may be invoked at any time (even if you initially started taking RMDs as a regular IRA beneficiary) but it is a one-time election and it is irrevocable.
Source: IRS Publication 590-B