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The Gift of Education

In the National Law Review, Terri Stallard, a Kentucky estate planning attorney talks about ways grandparents can give to their grandchildren.

Many grandparents want to enrich the lives of their grandkids, but are not sure the best way to accomplish this with their estate plan. I encourage clients to consider helping their grandchildren with the future costs of education. The proper planning can help grandkids avoid hefty loans and be tax-efficient for the donor.A grandparent may currently gift up to $14,000 per grandchild (or to anyone) per year tax free ($28,000 if a married couple gift-splits). Any gift over that amount requires the filing of a gift tax return.

However, if you pay for a grandchild's education expenses directly to the provider (i.e., educational institution), the gift is excluded from your annual exclusion amount. For purposes of this exclusion, the term "educational institution" covers a broad range of schooling, such as primary, preparatory, vocational or university institutions. This kind of payment is also exempt from the generation-skipping tax (which is too complicated to explain herein, but can significantly reduce a grandparent's gifting amount). In short, if you pay $40,000 to cover your grandchild's tuition directly to the school, you can still gift up to $14,000 tax free to him or her in the same year. Some institutions may even allow a donor to pay upfront the applicable years of education at a locked-in tuition rate, so as to avoid rate hikes.

Another option to consider is a 529 college-savings plan. One of the biggest benefits of this plan is that it can continue operation when the grandparent is no longer around to write checks to an institution. A grandparent can gift up to the annual exclusion per year tax free, or make up to five years' worth of the annual exclusion gift ($70,000 per single donor or $140,000 per couple) in one year to benefit a single individual. However, this has its drawbacks. If you gift the five year maximum amount in one year, any other annual exclusion gifts to that beneficiary for the next five years will incur gift tax consequences. Further, if you die within five years of the date of the gift, a prorated portion of the gift will be included in the estate tax calculation.

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