Can I use a 529 account to save for a child who hasn’t been born yet?
Yes, but the unborn child cannot be the beneficiary of the account. The IRS requires that a 529 account be opened for a living beneficiary who has a Social Security Number. This requirement rules out opening a 529 account with an unborn child as the beneficiary. However, 529 plans offer the flexibility to later change the beneficiary. For example, a parent may open an account and initially list him or herself as the beneficiary, and once the child is born, change the beneficiary to the child. Before choosing an initial beneficiary, you should be aware of potential tax consequences of later changing the beneficiary.
U.S. tax considerations
Federal income tax
The IRS generally allows for changes of the beneficiary without federal income tax consequences, as long as the new beneficiary is a “Member of the Family” of the former beneficiary (as defined in the Plan Description). For example, when a parent changes the beneficiary from oneself to his/her child, there are no federal income tax consequences.
Federal gift (and generation-skipping transfer) taxes
Contributions to 529 accounts are generally considered by the IRS to be completed gifts to the beneficiary, and those gifts may be subject to federal gift tax and possibly generation-skipping transfer tax. There may also be federal gift and generation-skipping transfer tax consequences of changing the beneficiary, depending on the relationship between the new and former beneficiaries. For example:
Relationship between new and former beneficiaries
The new beneficiary is the same generation as the former beneficiary and is a Member of the Family of the former beneficiary (e.g. beneficiary change from parent’s niece to parent’s child).
There are no federal gift or generation-skipping transfer tax consequences.
The new beneficiary is one generation below the former beneficiary (e.g. beneficiary change from parent to child).
There are federal gift tax consequences. The former beneficiary will be treated as having made a taxable gift to the new beneficiary. Note: When the parent is both the account owner and the beneficiary, contributions to the account are not considered gifts. In this case, the gift from parent to child occurs when the beneficiary is changed.
Generation-skipping transfer taxes do not apply to a beneficiary change unless the new beneficiary is two or more generations below that of the former beneficiary.
The first $14,000* of gifts made to each beneficiary during the calendar year (or $28,000 for a married couple filing jointly who elects to split gifts) is not subject to federal gift tax. By taking advantage of a special allowance for 529 plans, you can apply five years' worth of annual gift tax exclusions to a single gift upfront. This is commonly known as superfunding, and it enables you contribute up to $70,000 (5 x $14,000 annual exclusion) gift tax-free (or $140,000 for a married couple filing jointly). Any excess gifts may be applied against the contributor’s lifetime gift tax exclusion. For more information, see the IRS instructions for Form 709 (United States Gift Tax Return).
If you designate yourself as the initial beneficiary and the unborn child never comes into being, your options include:
- Change the beneficiary to another Member of the Family;
- Take a qualified withdrawal for your own higher education expenses; or
- Take a non-qualified withdrawal, in which case earnings are subject to income taxes and a 10% federal penalty tax.
If the new beneficiary is not a "Member of the Family" of the former beneficiary (as defined in the Plan Description), the change will be treated as a non-qualified withdrawal, in which case earnings are subject to income taxes and a 10% federal penalty tax.
We recommend that you consult your own tax advisor about your individual circumstances, including potential state tax consequences, when changing a beneficiary of a 529 account.
*For 2016. See IRS instructions for Form 709 (United States Gift Tax Return).
For more information about the Wealthfront 529 College Savings Plan (the “Plan”), download the Plan Description and Participation Agreement or request one by calling
844-995-8437 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Investment objectives, risks, charges, expenses, and other important information are included in the Plan Description and Participation Agreement; please read and consider it carefully before investing. An investment in the Plan is not insured or guaranteed by the FDIC or any federal or state government or agency. You could lose all or portion of your investment. Wealthfront Brokerage Corporation serves as the distributor and the underwriter of the Plan.
Before you invest, consider whether your or the beneficiary’s home state offers any state tax or other state benefits such as financial aid, scholarship funds, and protection from creditors that are only available for investments in that state’s qualified tuition program
The Plan is administered by the Board of Trustees of the College Savings Plans of Nevada (the “Board”), chaired by the Nevada State Treasurer. Ascensus Broker Dealer Services, Inc. (“ABD”) serves as the Program Manager.
Earnings on nonqualified withdrawals are subject to federal income tax and may be subject to a 10 percent federal tax penalty, as well as state and local income taxes. The availability of tax and other benefits may be contingent on meeting other requirements.
The information contained is provided for general informational purposes, and should not be construed as investment advice. Nothing should be construed as tax advice, solicitation or offer, or recommendation, to buy or sell any security. Financial advisory services are only provided to investors who become Wealthfront clients. This article is not intended as tax advice, and Wealthfront does not represent in any manner that the tax consequences described here will be obtained or will result in any particular tax consequence.
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