UGMA & UTMA Custodial Accounts
In most states, minors do not have the right to contract, and so cannot own stocks, bonds, mutual funds, annuities and life insurance policies. In particular, parents cannot simply transfer assets to their minor children, but instead must transfer the assets to a trust. The most common trust for a minor is known as a custodial account (an UGMA or UTMA account).
The Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) established a simple way for a minor to own securities without requiring the services of an attorney to prepare trust documents or the court appointment of a trustee. The terms of this trust are established by a state statute instead of a trust document. The Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA) is similar, but also allows minors to own other types of property, such as real estate, fine art, patents and royalties, and for the transfers to occur through inheritance.
Any money in custodial accounts for which you are the custodian will be counted as part of your taxable estate if you are the legal guardian of the child and the child has not yet reached the age of trust termination.
The income from a custodial account must be reported on the child's tax return and is taxed at the child's rate, subject to the Kiddie Tax rules. The parent is responsible for filing an income tax return on behalf of the child. There is no special tax treatment for UGMA accounts. Children aged 14 and older must sign their own tax returns.
Neither the donor nor the custodian can place any restrictions on the use of the money when the minor becomes an adult. At that time the child can use the money for any purpose whatsoever without requiring permission of the custodian, so there's no guarantee that the child will use the money for his or her education. Also, since UGMA and UTMA accounts are in the name of a single child, the funds are not transferrable to another beneficiary.
Impact on Student Aid Eligibility
For financial aid purposes, custodial accounts are considered assets of the student. This means that custodial bank and brokerage accounts have a high impact on financial aid eligibility.
However, since 2009-10 the treatment of custodial 529 college savings plans has been more favorable. A custodial 529 plan of a dependent student is treated as an asset of the parent on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This means that a custodial 529 college savings plan for a dependent student has a low impact on financial aid eligibility. Thus one method of dealing with the financial aid impact of a custodial bank or brokerage account is to liquidate the account and transfer the proceeds into a custodial 529 plan account.
If money is transferred from an UGMA/UTMA account to a section 529 plan, the section 529 plan should be titled the same as the UGMA/UTMA account. When the child reaches the age of trust termination, the child will become the account owner for the section 529 plan. The custodian is not permitted to change the beneficiary of the section 529 plan, because the responsibility of the custodian to use the assets of the UGMA/UTMA account for the benefit of the child does not terminate when the funds are withdrawn from the account.
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