The 529 is an account that allows for tax free growth only if the funds are used to pay for college education costs. But did you know that you can potentially use a 529 account as a multi-generational vehicle to fund college education for multiple generations?
The 529 Gifting Extravaganza
When a 529 account is established, it has an owner (typically the grandparent or the parent) and a beneficiary (the future student). The beauty of 529s for estate tax planning purposes is that while the funds are out of the owner’s gross estate, the owner still retains control over the account and can change the beneficiary if desired. If the new beneficiary is a member of the old beneficiary’s family, there are no income tax ramifications of making a beneficiary change. Say the new beneficiary is one or more generation below the old beneficiary. It will therefore be deemed a gift from the old beneficiary to the new beneficiary, not from the owner to the new beneficiary. The gift will be subject to the current gift tax rules.
In 2017, an individual can gift another individual up to $14,000 annually and have it pass free from gift tax. 529 accounts have a special provision where you can “front load” up to five years’ worth of annual exclusion gifts into the account. Thus, an individual could gift $70,000 into a 529 ($14,000 * 5), and if they file a gift tax return and make the 5 year election, it will not be a taxable gift.
Ample Planning Opportunities
Families looking to fund future college education costs have ample planning opportunities, given the fact that the gift to the new beneficiary is deemed to be made by the old beneficiary and not the owner. For example, let’s say that Grandpa Joe has $7,000,000. He has the financial capacity to gift assets away to his family members. Based on a net worth of $7,000,000, based on 2017 estate tax laws, his total estate taxes to New Jersey and the IRS would be approximately $1,039,000.
Grandpa Joe’s daughter, Anna, and son-in-law George, just had twins. Joe could put $70,000 into newly established 529 accounts for each of the twins. This would fund approximately 35% of future college education costs assuming that they attend a private university costing $50,000 currently and that college inflation is 5%. It could also save Joe approximately $67,000 in estate taxes. But, what if Grandpa Joe did the following?
· Establish a 529 for each twin ($70,000 each)
· Establish a 529 for his daughter Anna ($70,000) and his son-in-law George ($70,000)
Grandpa Joe has removed $280,000 from his estate, which corresponds to approximately $134,000 in estate tax savings. But, how can he ultimately use the funds for the twins’ college education? Anna and George don’t need the funds for education, so Joe can change the beneficiary of Anna and George’s respective plans to the twins. This is deemed to be a gift from Anna to Twin #1 and George to Twin #2. Anna and George can use the five year election so that the beneficiary change will not create a taxable gift. This assumes they will file a gift tax return for the year the beneficiary is changed. Ultimately, each twin will have $140,000 in his 529 account, which represents approximately 70% of future college education costs assuming that they attend a private university and that college inflation in 5%.
|Amount in each twin’s 529, transferred gift-tax free||Estimated Estate Tax Savings|
As with any 529 establishment, Grandpa Joe should list a successor owner. Ownership of the account (not to be confused with the beneficiary of the account) can then be updated easily and automatically to his named successor upon his passing. If he does not designate a successor owner, the probate process or the specific 529 plan’s process will dictate the new account owner. There are no tax consequences of a new owner upon the death of the initial owner.
Grandpa Joe could do this gifting exercise again in five years. If he has assets in the 529s after the twins finish college, he can change the beneficiary to another member of the family.
The above example is just one example of the many potential applications for this planning strategy. Another opportunity could be the ability to put money aside for children or grandchildren that aren’t even born yet! As always, you should consult with your Wealth Advisor, attorney and accountant before making such gifts.
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