A Multigenerational 529, also known as a Dynasty 529 Plan, is a way of using one or more 529 plans to leave a legacy of education for future generations. A Dynasty 529 Plan can be set up by parents, grandparents, or other relatives.
With a Dynasty 529 Plan, high net-worth parents save more than is required for their children’s college education, meaning, they can continue to save in the plan even after their kids have graduated. A Dynasty 529 Plan benefits from years of tax-free growth before parents tap into it to pay for the costs of college.
However, passing on a 529 plan to future generations may result in gift taxes and generation-skipping transfer taxes. The 529 plans may also affect eligibility for need-based financial aid.
Depending on the number of descendants and increases in college costs, a Dynasty 529 Plan might not be enough to pay for the college costs of all future generations.
529 Plan Basics
529 plans are specialized savings accounts that are used to save for education expenses. Contributions are made with after-tax dollars and earnings accumulate on a tax-deferred basis.
Two-thirds of states offer a state income-tax deduction or tax credit based on contributions to the state’s 529 plan.
Distributions for qualified education expenses are entirely tax-free.
The earnings portion of a non-qualified distribution is subject to income tax at the recipient’s rate, plus a 10% tax penalty and possible state income tax breaks.
Qualified expenses include:
- College tuition and fees, books, supplies and equipment, room and board (if enrolled on at least a half-time basis), the cost of a computer (including computer software and internet) and special needs expenses
- Up to $10,000 in student loan repayment per borrower (lifetime limit) for the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s siblings
- Fees, books, supplies and equipment required for participation in certain apprenticeship programs
- Up to $10,000 per year in elementary and secondary school tuition
- Rollover up to the annual gift tax exclusion amount to an ABLE account for a special needs beneficiary
- Rollover up to $35,000 per beneficiary (lifetime limit) to a Roth IRA of the beneficiary starting in 2024
Contributions to a 529 plan are exempt from gift taxes up to certain limits.
Contribution Limits And Super-Funding
529 plans do not have an annual contribution limit.
Contributions are subject to the annual gift tax limit of $17,000 (2023) per contributor per beneficiary. A couple can give twice this amount, or $34,000.
529 plans offer five-year gift-tax averaging, also called super-funding, in which a contributor can give a lump sum of up to five times the annual gift tax exclusion. One fifth of the contribution is removed from the contributor’s estate each year.
529 plans do have aggregate contribution limits, which vary by state. The aggregate contribution limits are per beneficiary and include all 529 plans for the beneficiary in the same state.
Once the 529 plan account balance reaches the limit, no further contributions may be made, but the 529 plan can continue to appreciate in value. There is no limit on how large the 529 plan can grow.
- The current 2023 aggregate contribution limits range from $235,000 in Georgia and Mississippi to $569,123 in New Hampshire.
- The average aggregate contribution limit among all state 529 plans is $467,115 and the median limit is $500,000.
Families Can Have 529s Across States
A family can have 529 plans in multiple states and use them to pay for college in any state. The aggregate contribution limit in one state’s 529 plan does not consider amounts saved in 529 plans in other states.
If a family invested to the limit in all the states, the total contributions could be as much as $23.3 million per beneficiary.
529 plans do not have age limits, unlike Coverdell education savings accounts. Coverdell education savings accounts require contributions to end when the beneficiary reaches age 18. The account must be fully distributed by the time the beneficiary reaches age 30.
There are exceptions to this rule, including if the beneficiary has special needs. In contrast, contributions may be made to a 529 plan regardless of the age of the beneficiary, and there is no requirement to ever take a distribution.
4 Strategies For A Multigenerational 529 Plan
There are several key ways to for continued funding and growth for a multigenerational 529 Plan.
There is no aggregate contribution limit on rollovers in most states. So, you can rollover an out-of-state 529 plan and another family member’s 529 plan into the child’s in-state 529 plan.
However, some states consider an outbound rollover to be a non-qualified distribution and subject to state income-tax.
See the map below—these states include: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Washington DC, and Wisconsin.
See the map below—these are states that don’t treat outbound rollovers as non-qualified distributions: Arizona, Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont and West Virginia.
Be Aware Of The Annual Gift Tax Exemption
The main limitation on contributions to a 529 plan is the annual gift tax exemption, which is $17,000 per contributor per beneficiary.
If you contribute as a couple to a Dynasty 529 Plan for 40 years, that’s a total of $1.36 million. This does not count any increases in the annual gift tax exclusion, any appreciation of the investment or any distributions to pay for college costs. If you are willing to use up part of their $12.92 million lifetime exemption ($25.84 million for a couple), you can contribute more.
It is best to front-load the contributions through five-year gift-tax averaging or using up part of the lifetime gift tax exemption. This is to ensure contributions are made before the 529 plan balance exceeds the contribution limit.
Examples Of Growth In A 529 Plan Account
If the 529 plan averages a 4% annual return on investment, it will double in value every 18 years. If the 529 plan averages a 6% annual return on investment, it will double in value every 12 years. This can lead to significant growth in the 529 plan balance.
The number of children per generation, the amount of initial funding and tuition inflation rates, exponential growth in the number of family members paying for college may eventually exhaust all of the funds in the Multigenerational 529 Plan.
The Dynasty 529 Plan will generally experience 20 years of growth before the next generation needs help paying for college costs.
Change In Beneficiary
The account owner can change the beneficiary of a 529 plan to a member of the family of the previous beneficiary at any time, without limit.
The account owner can also transfer funds from one 529 plan to the 529 plan of a new beneficiary. This includes a partial transfer, not just a transfer of the full balance. Such rollovers are limited to once per 12-month period per beneficiary.
Members of the beneficiary’s family include the beneficiary’s spouse, as well as:
- Son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, adopted child or a descendant and their spouses
- Brother, sister, stepbrother or stepsister and their spouses
- Father or mother or an ancestor and their spouses
- Stepfather or stepmother
- Nieces, nephews and their spouses
- Aunts, uncles and their spouses
- Son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law or sister-in-law
- First cousin
Change In Account Owner
Many states allow a change in the account owner. Some limit a change in the account owner to the death, incapacitation or divorce of the current account owner. Others allow a change in account owner in any situation. Some 529 plans allow the account owner to specify a contingent account owner when the account is set up.
The new account owner does not need to be related to the old account owner. There are no tax consequences for a change in account ownership. Changing the account owner does not result in income, gift, or transfer taxes.
Parents should choose a state 529 plan that allows flexible changes in account owners, as the account owner of a Dynasty 529 Plan may eventually change.
What To Know About Gift Taxes
There is an annual gift tax exclusion of $17,000 per donor per recipient in 2023. This gift tax exclusion is adjusted periodically for inflation. A couple can give twice this amount, or $34,000, when giving together.
There’s also a $12.92 million lifetime exemption for gift and estate taxes. For a husband and wife, the combined lifetime exemption is $25.84 million.
However, the lifetime exemption will drop roughly in half in 2026, when it reverts to where it was in 2017 ($5.6 million) adjusted for inflation since 2017, unless Congress acts.
Based on inflation as of January 2023, that would yield a lifetime exemption of $6.9 million. The lifetime exemption in 2026 will be at least this amount. But, it will most likely be about $7.8 million based on estimates of inflation over the next three years.
Generation-Skipping Transfer Taxes
In addition to gift taxes, there’s also the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax (GSTT). The Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax applies if the new beneficiary is at a lower generation than the current beneficiary.
Transfers include a change in the beneficiary of a 529 plan and a rollover from one 529 plan to another.
If the new beneficiary is at the same generation level as the current beneficiary, there will be no gift or transfer tax consequences. For example, a change in beneficiary to a cousin of the current beneficiary (e.g., from a niece or nephew of the account owner to a child of the account owner), there will be no gift or generation-skipping transfer taxes.
If you contribute to a 529 plan of a niece or nephew and later transfer funds to your child’s 529 plan or change the beneficiary to your child, wait a few years to avoid step-transaction concerns.
If the beneficiary is changed to someone who is one or more generations below the current beneficiary, that may be treated as a taxable gift. Likewise, a rollover to a 529 with a beneficiary that is one or more generations below the current 529 plan’s beneficiary may be treated as a taxable gift.
The IRS has not issued regulations that specify whether this is treated as a taxable gift from the account owner or from the old beneficiary to the new beneficiary. However, proposed regulations from 1998 specified that the transfer is treated as a taxable gift.
How Are Generations Defined?
People often get confused by what it means for a beneficiary to be one or more generations lower than the current beneficiary. A child is one generation lower than the parent and two generations lower than the grandparent.
Generations are defined by the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 at 26 USC 2651 as the number of generations between an individual who is a lineal descendant of an ancestor and the ancestor.
- If the individual is not a lineal descendant, the generation number is based on the person’s date of birth.
- If the individual was born not more than 12.5 years after, they are considered to be of the same generation.
- Someone who is born more than 12.5 years after the other individual but not more than 37.5 years is considered one generation below the other individual.
- Each additional increment of 25 years yields a new generation.
A change in the account owner is not considered to be a transfer and is not subject to gift taxes and transfer taxes.
There’s an annual exclusion for the generation-skipping transfer tax that is the same as the annual exclusion for gift taxes. Likewise for the lifetime exemption.
Changes in the 529 plan beneficiary are unlikely to result in the payment of gift or transfer taxes for typical families.
However, as the size of the Dynasty 529 Plan grows, it may become subject to gift and transfer taxes, especially if the family is very wealthy or if a transfer is made upon death of the current beneficiary.
Changes in the laws concerning 529 plans are unlikely, since abuse of the rules is rare, but there are several risks associated with a Multigenerational 529 Plan that may reduce their effectiveness.
Congress could change the rules associated with gift and transfer taxes, or the annual exclusion and lifetime exemptions, leading to a large tax burden.
State 529 plans could change their rules to no longer allow rollovers when they exceed the aggregate contribution limit.