The IRS issued proposed regulations implementing Sec. 529A, which authorizes states to offer specially designed tax-favored accounts for the disabled (ABLE accounts). Sec. 529A was added by the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014, which was part of the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014.
ABLE accounts were created in recognition of “the special financial burdens borne by families raising children with disabilities and the fact that increased financial needs generally continue throughout the disabled person’s lifetime” (preamble, p. 5). Contributions made to an individual’s ABLE account can be used to meet the individual’s qualified disability expenses.
One account is permitted to be set up per eligible individual and total annual contributions are restricted to the amount excluded under Sec. 2503(b) for gift tax purposes ($14,000 for 2015, but inflation adjusted). Amounts contributed in excess of those limitations must be returned to the contributors on a last-in, first-out basis by the due date of the beneficiary’s tax return (including extensions) for the year in which the contributions were made and are subject to a 6% excise tax if they are not returned.
Sec. 529A allows a state (or agency or instrumentality) to create a qualified ABLE program under which a separate ABLE account may be established for a disabled individual who is the designated beneficiary and owner of that account. Contributions to that account are subject to both an annual and a cumulative limit, and, when made by a person other than the designated beneficiary, are treated as nontaxable gifts to the designated beneficiary.
Distributions made from an ABLE account for qualified disability expenses of the designated beneficiary are not included in the designated beneficiary’s gross income, but the earnings portion of distributions from the account in excess of the qualified disability expenses is includible in the designated beneficiary’s gross income. An ABLE account may be used for the long-term or short-term needs of the beneficiary. One of the most important provisions of these accounts is that they are generally not counted when determining the disabled person’s qualification for needs-based federal programs.
To qualify, the program must be established and maintained by a state or a state’s agency or instrumentality; permit the establishment of an ABLE account only for a designated beneficiary who is a resident of that state, or of a state contracting with that state; permit an ABLE account to be established only for a designated beneficiary who is an eligible individual; limit a designated beneficiary to only one ABLE account, wherever located; permit contributions to an ABLE account established to meet the qualified disability expenses of the account’s designated beneficiary; limit the nature and amount of contributions that can be made to an ABLE account; require a separate accounting of each designated beneficiary’s account; limit the designated beneficiary to no more than two opportunities in any calendar year to provide investment direction; and prohibit pledging an interest in an ABLE account as security for a loan.
Because eligible individuals often will not be able to set up their own accounts, the rules allow a person with power of attorney or the beneficiary’s parent or guardian to set up the account. Each account must be for an eligible individual, which means the individual is entitled to benefits based on blindness or disability under title II or XVI of the Social Security Act and the blindness or disability occurred before the date on which the individual turned 26, or the individual obtains a disability certification meeting requirements specified in the regulations.
To ease the administrative burdens and in recognition that some people may move in or out of disabled status, in years in which an eligible individual is no longer eligible, the plan cannot accept additional contributions and will not be deemed to make a distribution, but the account can remain open. The rules also are flexible in the requirements for annual recertifications of disability.
—Sally P. Schreiber (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a JofA senior editor.