Financial guide for first-time grandparents

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Think beyond layettes and baby rattles to create such lasting gifts as a college education and an inheritance.
Becoming a grandparent changes everything — including, often, your approach to your finances. When you hold the next generation in your arms for the first time, chances are good that money won't be uppermost in your mind. But it won't be long before you begin to think about how you can help to create a solid financial foundation for this newest member of your family. And having a strategy for incorporating your new grandchild's future into your overall financial picture can make a big difference when you're ready. Here's a guide to help you get started.

Giving the gift of education

After the layettes, car seats, rattles and other baby paraphernalia have been purchased, the next thing you'll probably want to think about is how to help your grandchild pay for a good education. A single year's tuition at a public institution is expected to rise above $44,000 by 2030, and it's predicted to be twice that much at private schools, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Given this, the earlier you start a college savings program such as a 529 college savings plan for your grandchild, the more impact your gift is likely to have. With a 529 plan, money you set aside has the potential to grow tax-free until it's needed, and there's no tax when the money is spent on qualified higher education expenses. "If you start a 529 now and let it build for 18 years, the tax savings should be significant," says Richard J. Polimeni, director of education savings programs at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Setting limits

Even retired people who have reserved significant resources for discretionary spending should give careful thought to how much they plan to devote each year to a grandchild's gifts, education and other expenses. "It's important to balance your generosity with your retirement needs," says Amanda Ross, director, Personal Wealth and Retirement Group. Instead of simply giving gifts on special occasions or as needs arise, Ross suggests working on a thoughtful giving strategy. One way to set limits is to create a defined income stream by purchasing an immediate annuity. You can dedicate the regular income you get from the annuity to funding gifts for your grandchild over a predetermined number of years.

Creating a trust

Another way to set aside a specified amount of money for a child's future is to establish a Uniform Gift or Transfer to Minors Act (UGMA/UTMA) account. In a typical arrangement, grandparents put money into a UGMA/UTMA account that can be used only for the benefit of the youngster. Either you or the child's parents are listed as custodian, and the custodian can make spending decisions for the child until he or she reaches the age of majority in his/her state of residence.
The primary drawback to a UGMA/UTMA is that once your grandchild comes of age, he or she is free to spend the assets at will. To exercise more control over when the money is used, some states' UGMA/UTMA laws may allow you to extend the age at which your grandchild gains control of the assets. Because of the expense involved in setting up and maintaining them, trusts may not be right for every situation, Ross says, "but they do give you an added degree of flexibility to customize your giving."

Reviewing your will

You now have a potential new beneficiary, and you should make sure that your will reflects that. In your current will, you may have stipulated that the inheritance will go to your daughter and her husband, on the assumption that it will also be used to care for any grandchildren. But what if family circumstances change — your daughter dies and her husband remarries, for example? There's no guarantee that your grandchild will receive the benefit you intended. To make sure that your grandchild receives the inheritance you want to leave, Ross suggests, you might establish a trust for the grandchild and indicate which assets you'd like placed in the trust after your death.
It makes sense to think through these and other strategies soon after the birth of your first grandchild, suggests Ross. That way you can enjoy your new role as a grandparent to the fullest, without worrying about your own retirement security. And remember, your first grandchild may not be your last.

Neither Merrill Lynch nor any of its affiliates or financial advisors provide legal, tax or accounting advice. You should consult your legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions.

To be eligible for favorable tax treatment afforded to any earnings portion of withdrawals from Section 529 accounts, such withdrawals must be used for "qualified higher education expenses," as defined in the Internal Revenue Code. Any earnings withdrawn that are not used for such expenses are subject to federal income tax and may be subject to a 10% additional federal tax, as well as applicable state and local income taxes.

Before you invest in a Section 529 plan, request the plan's official statement and read it carefully. The official statement contains more complete information, including investment objectives, charges, expenses and risks of investing in the 529 plan, which you should consider carefully before investing. You should also consider whether your home state or your designated beneficiary's home state offers any state tax or other state benefits such as financial aid, scholarship funds and protection against creditors that are available only for investments in such state's 529 plan. Section 529 plans are not guaranteed by any state or federal agency.

All contract and rider guarantees, including optional benefits and any fixed subaccount crediting rates or annuity payout rates, are backed by the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. They are not backed by Merrill Lynch or its affiliates.