Susan E. Thomas CPA
I'm putting money into a 529 plan for my grandchild. But are the 529 assets subject to Medicaid spend-down requirements?

Very possibly. Unless legislation in your state exempts 529 plans from Medicaid rules, you'd be wise to assume that these assets will be subject to the state's grasp.

To be eligible for Medicaid, most states require that your assets and monthly income fall below certain limits. A state may count the assets and income that are legally available to you for paying bills. You can make assets unavailable by giving them away or by holding them in certain trusts. In some cases, though, such transfers may create a period of ineligibility before you can collect Medicaid.

The potential problem with 529 plans is that your contributions are "revocable." This means that you can contribute money to your grandchild's 529 account today, and then take it back later (subject to income taxes and a penalty). Since it's possible for you to get your hands on the money, your state Medicaid authorities may consider your 529 gift to be a countable asset when considering your eligibility for Medicaid. That might prevent or delay your eligibility for Medicaid.

In addition, your state has the right to "look back" at your finances 60 months from the date you apply for Medicaid. Contributions you've made to your grandchild's 529 account within this period may delay your eligibility for Medicaid.

You may want to consult a Medicaid planning attorney and keep abreast of changes in your state's laws with respect to Medicaid and 529 plans.

Note: Before investing in a 529 plan, please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully. The official disclosure statements and applicable prospectuses - which contain this and other information about the investment options, underlying investments, and investment company - can be obtained by contacting your financial professional. You should read these materials carefully before investing. As with other investments, there are generally fees and expenses associated with participation in a 529 plan. There is also the risk that the investments may lose money or not perform well enough to cover college costs as anticipated. Investment earnings accumulate on a tax-deferred basis, and withdrawals are tax-free as long as they are used for qualified higher-education expenses. For withdrawals not used for qualified higher-education expenses, earnings may be subject to taxation as ordinary income and possibly a 10% federal income tax penalty. The tax implications of a 529 plan should be discussed with your legal and/or tax advisors because they can vary significantly from state to state. Also be aware that most states offer their own 529 plans, which may provide advantages and benefits exclusively for their residents and taxpayers. These other state benefits may include financial aid, scholarship funds, and protection from creditors.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc, Copyright 2011