The Internal Revenue Service allows money in qualified retirement accounts to grow tax-sheltered as long as the money remains in the account. However, the IRS does not allow the money to remain in the account indefinitely. When you reach each 70 1/2, you must start taking required minimum distributions from all retirement accounts except Roth IRAs. The amount of the distribution depends on the value of your accounts and your age.

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Contact the financial institution that holds your retirement account to find the value of your account as of the last day of the prior year. For example, if you were calculating your required minimum distribution for 2012, you would need to know the value of your account as of Dec. 31, 2011.

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Use the appropriate IRS distribution table to find the distribution period for your account (see Resources section). Most people use Table III, the Uniform Lifetime table. However, if your spouse is more than 10 years younger than you, use Table II, the Joint Life and Last Survivor Expectancy table. If you inherited the retirement account, use Table I, the Single Life Expectancy.

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Divide the value of your retirement account by the expected distribution period to calculate your required minimum distribution. For example, if your retirement account was worth $340,000 and your distribution period was 24.7 years, you would divide $340,000 by 24.7 to find that your required minimum distribution would be $13,765.18.