Are 529 Plans Part of Your Estate? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Estate planning attorneys, accountants and CPAs say that 529s are more than good ways to save for college. They are also highly flexible estate planning tools, useful far beyond education spending, that cost practically nothing to set up. In the very near future, the role of 529s could expand greatly, according to the article “A Loophole Makes ‘529’ Plans Good Wealth Transfer Tools. Here’s How to Use Them” from Barron’s.

Most tactics to reduce the size of an estate are irrevocable and cannot be undone, but the 529 allows you to change the beneficiaries of a 529 account. Even the owners can be changed multiple times. Here is how they work, and why they deserve more attention.

The 529 is funded with after tax dollars, and all money taken out of the account, including investment gains, is tax free, as long as it is spent on qualified education expenses. That includes tuition, room and board and books. What about money used for non-qualified expenses? Income taxes are due, plus a 10% penalty. Only the original contribution is not taxed, if used for non-qualified expenses.

Most states have their own 529 plans, but you can use a plan from any state. Check to see if there are tax advantages from using your state’s plan and know the details before you open an account and start making contributions.

Each 529 account owner must designate a single beneficiary, but money can be moved between beneficiaries, as long as they are in the same family. You can move money that was in a child’s account into their own child’s account, with no taxes, as long as you do not hit gift tax exclusion levels.

In most states, you can contribute up to $15,000 per beneficiary to a 529 plan. However, each account owner can also pay up to five years’ worth of contributions without triggering gift taxes. A couple together may contribute up to $150,000 per beneficiary, and they can do it for multiple people.

There are no limits to the number of 529s a person may own. If you are blessed with ten grandchildren, you can open a 529 account for each one of them.

For one family with eight grandchildren, plus one child in graduate school, contributions were made of $1.35 million to various 529 plans. By doing this, their estate, valued at $13 million, was reduced below the federal tax exclusion limit of $11.7 million per person.

Think of the money as a family education endowment. If it is needed for a crisis, it can be accessed, even though taxes will need to be paid.

To create a 529 that will last for multiple generations, provisions need to be made to transfer ownership. Funding 529 plans for grandchildren’s education must be accompanied by designating their parents—the adult children—as successor owners, when the grandparents die or become incapacitated.

The use of 529s has changed over the years. Originally only for college tuition, room and board, today they can be used for private elementary school or high school. They can also be used to take cooking classes, language classes or career training at accredited institutions. Be mindful that some expenses will not qualify—including transportation costs, healthcare and personal expenses.

Reference: Barron’s (May 29, 2021) “A Loophole Makes ‘529’ Plans Good Wealth Transfer Tools. Here’s How to Use Them”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Do I Need to Be Wealthy to Set Up a Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Trust funds are intended to let a person’s money continue to be useful, after they pass away. However, they are not only useful for ultra-high-net-worth individuals. Many people can benefit from the use of a trust.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “How to Set Up a Trust Fund if You’re Not Rich” says that you can place cash, stock, real estate, or other valuable assets in your trust. Work with a trust attorney, decide on the beneficiaries, and set any instructions or restrictions. With an irrevocable trust, you do not have the ability to dissolve the trust, if you change your mind later on. Once you place property in the trust, it is no longer yours but is under the care of a trustee. Because the assets are no longer yours, you do not have to pay income tax on any money made from the assets, and with an estate planning attorney’s guidance, the assets can be exempt from estate and gift taxes.

Tax exemptions are a main reason that some people set up an irrevocable trust. If you, the trustor (the person establishing the trust) is in a higher income tax bracket, creating an irrevocable trust lets you remove these assets from your net worth and move into a lower tax bracket.

If you do not want to set up a trust, there are other options. However, they do not give you as much control over your property. As an alternative or in addition to a trust, you can have an attorney draft your will. With a will, your property is subject to more taxes, and its terms can easily be contested in probate. You also will not have much control over how your assets are used.

Similar to a 529 college-savings plan, UGMA/UTMA custodial accounts are designed to let a person use the funds for education-related expenses. You can use an account like this to gift a certain amount up to the maximum gift tax or fund maximum to reduce your tax liability, while setting aside funds that can only be used for education-related expenses. The downside to UGMA/UTMA Custodial Accounts and 529 plans is that money in the minor’s custodial account is considered an asset. This may make them ineligible to receive need-based financial aid.

For those who do not have a high net-worth but want to leave money to children or grandchildren and control how that money is used, a trust may be a good option. Talk it over with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Investopedia (Dec. 12, 2019) “How to Set Up a Trust Fund if You’re Not Rich”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

The SECURE Act and Your Retirement – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

For anyone who has saved a high six- or seven-figure balance in their retirement accounts, the SECURE Act will definitely affect their retirement plans. That includes 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and other workplace plans, as well as traditional IRAs and Roth IRA accounts. The article “How the new Secure Act affects your retirement” from the Daily Camera provides a clear picture of the changes.

Stretch IRAs are Curtailed. Anyone who inherited an IRA (traditional or Roth) from a parent before 2020, may take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from those accounts over their own life expectancy. Let us say a parent died when you were 48—you could stretch those distributions out over the course of 36 years. This option gave heirs the ability to spread income and the taxes that come with the income out over decades—with little distributions having little impact on taxes. If you inherited a Roth IRA, you could benefit from its tax-free growth over your entire lifetime.

All that is changed now. A non-spousal heir (or one who is disabled, chronically ill or a minor child) now has ten years in which to take their distributions. They have to pay ordinary income taxes on the amount they take out, over a far shorter period of time. Newly inherited Roth IRAs have the same rules, but usually there are no taxes due. If a minor inherits an IRA, once they reach the age of majority, they have ten years in which to take their distributions.

A Small Break for Required IRA Distributions. Until the SECURE Act, retirees had to start taking their RMDs out of IRAs soon after turning 70½. The new age for taking RMDs is now 72 for those who are younger than age 70½ at the end of 2019. This will not alter the plans of most retirees, since they usually start taking those distributions well before age 72 to cover expenses. Roth IRAs have another benefit: they continue to escape distribution requirements, unless they are inherited.

No Age Cap for Traditional IRA Contributions. Workers may now continue to contribute funds into a traditional IRA at any age. Before the SECURE Act, workers had to stop contributing funds once they turned 70½. Note that you or your spouse are still required to have earned income to put funds in a traditional or Roth IRA.

Other Changes. There are many more changes from the SECURE Act and thought leaders in the estate planning community will be reviewing and analyzing the law for months, or perhaps years, to come. Some of the changes that are widely recognized already include the ability to withdraw $5,000 penalty-free from retirement plan accounts per newly born or adopted child, although in most cases, income tax will need to be paid on the withdrawal.

Section 529 educational savings accounts can be used, up to a lifetime limit of $10,000 per student, to pay off student loans. In most states, this will be considered a non-qualified withdrawal and state income taxes will be due, but at least the money can be used for this purpose.

Lastly, there are new tax credits available to smaller companies that set up new retirement plans, and there are new rules regarding including part-time employees in company sponsored 401(k) plans.

The changes from the SECURE Act, particularly regarding the loss of the IRA Stretch, have created a need for people to review their estate plans, if they included leaving large retirement accounts to their children. Speak with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your plan still works.

Reference: Daily Camera (Jan. 11, 2020) “How the new Secure Act affects your retirement”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

What Do I Need to Know About ABLE Accounts? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Millions of Americans with disabilities and their families depend on public benefits to help provide income, health care, food and housing assistance. Eligibility for assistance through Supplemental Security Income, SNAP and Medicaid is based upon a resource test, so disabled individuals seeking benefits are typically limited to no more than $2,000 in savings or assets. This can present a difficult problem.

The Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) was created as a way to create a tax-advantaged savings tool for individuals with disabilities and their families.

nj.com’s article, “ABLE accounts–A tax advantaged tool for special needs planning,” advises that when used correctly, this overlooked savings account may allow families to build a small nest egg, without affecting eligibility for public program benefits.

An ABLE 529 account is designed to be a savings or investment account to supplement public benefits. It can be a powerful strategy for individuals, who previously were unable to build supplemental funds outside of a trust for their needs. An ABLE account is funded with after-tax contributions that can grow tax-free, when used for a qualified disability expense. The account owner is also the beneficiary and contributions can be made from any person including the account beneficiary, friends, and family.

The ABLE account is available to individuals with significant disabilities, whose age of onset of disability was before they turned 26. A person could be over the age of 26 but must have had an age of onset before their 26th birthday.

Contributions are restricted to $15,000 per year. Because the ABLE account is connected to the 529 plan for education, the total contribution limit is based upon the individual state’s limit for 529 plans. Individuals can have up to $100,000 in an ABLE account, without impacting SSI eligibility. The first $100,000 also does not count toward the $2,000 resource restriction.

A frequently asked question is whether to use an ABLE account or a Special Needs Trust for planning purposes. ABLE are subject to certain limitations that make it impossible, or at least ill advised, to use them instead of a Special Needs Trust. Remember that ABLE accounts can only receive $15,000 in deposits each year, but, in most cases, Special Needs Trusts can receive much larger contributions in a year, once they are funded. This is an important difference for parents who want to leave more substantial assets to their child when they die but don’t want to jeopardize the child’s eligibility for critical services. In that situation, a Special Needs Trust may be more desirable.

When the beneficiary of the ABLE account passes away, any leftover funds in the account are typically reimbursed to the state to defray the costs of providing services during the beneficiary’s life. However, that’s different than a properly drafted Special Needs Trust.

In 2019, ABLE account owners who work but don’t have an employer-sponsored retirement account, can now save up to $12,140 in additional savings from their earnings.

Ask your estate planning attorney about possibly coordinating an ABLE account with a Special Needs Trust.

Reference: nj.com (April 20, 2019) “ABLE accounts – A tax advantaged tool for special needs planning”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys