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Why Your Grandparents Could be Your Meal Ticket to College

Why Your Grandparents Could be Your Meal Ticket to College

Mark Kantrowitz

April 21, 2009

Roth IRA

Grandparents who own a Roth IRA can name their grandchildren as primary beneficiaries. While the Roth IRA will be included in the grandparent’s taxable estate and so be subject to federal estate tax, in many cases the Roth IRA will pass to the grandchildren tax free if the total estate is less than the unused portion of the unified credit. The grandchildren can then avoid the 10% early distribution penalty and withdraw earnings tax-free even if they are under age 59-1/2. (For all distributions to be tax-free, a Roth IRA must have existed for at least five years before the distribution. Otherwise the earnings the accumulate after the contribution to the Roth IRA will be taxable.) Usually the grandchild must take a distribution of the entire amount by the end of the fifth year following the previous owner’s death. But until the grandchild takes a distribution, the Roth IRA is disregarded as an asset on the FAFSA. Distributions will count as untaxed income on the FAFSA, affecting the subsequent year’s federal student aid eligibility.

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