Artificial intelligence (AI) is in the beginning stages of a revolution.  For the better part of the last century, this technology saw little application outside of data analytics and computer algorithms.

Today, AI can replicate real communication with surprising ease.  ChatGPT, for instance, is known for its ability to draft essays and summarize long passages from a book in mere seconds, a boon for many a student. Recently, ChatGPT even passed the uniform bar exam on its first attempt. Which begs the question, will this technology replace estate planning attorneys?  If you ask ChatGPT yourself, you might be surprised.  We typed “I have a legal question” in the search bar, and nearly instantaneously ChatGPT responded, “Sure, I can try to help.  Please keep in mind that I’m not a lawyer, and my responses are not a substitute for professional legal advice.”

Still curious, we pressed on, and asked ChatGPT the following question:

A 529 plan account is a tax-efficient way to save for a child’s or grandchild’s education costs.  529 plans, legally known as “qualified tuition plans,” are sponsored by states, state agencies, or educational institutions and are authorized by Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code.  529 plan accounts have multiple tax advantages, including allowing an individual to contribute up to $18,000 per year, or $36,000 per married couple.  These contributions are considered gifts to the beneficiary of the account but are not taxable because they qualify for the so-called “annual exclusion” from taxable gifts.  The investments in the 529 plan grow tax-deferred, and withdrawals are not subject to income tax when used for qualified educational expenses.

Considering the high cost of education today, it may seem unlikely that any assets in a 529 plan account would go unused.  However, if an account’s beneficiary decides not to attend college, attends a more affordable school, or receives a significant scholarship or financial aid, it is possible there would be funds remaining in the 529 account when the beneficiary’s education is concluded.  Withdrawals from 529 accounts that are not used for qualified educational expenses are subject to income tax and excise tax of 10% on the earnings portion of the withdrawals.  Certain exceptions to the 10% penalty apply.  To avoid the income and excise taxes, account holders have the option to change the beneficiary of the 529 account to an eligible relative of the original beneficiary, such as a sibling, child, or other descendant.  Beginning in January of 2024, another option that avoids the income and excise taxes is to roll over the amount remaining in the 529 account to a Roth IRA.  Whereas amounts withdrawn from 529 accounts may only be used for qualified educational expenses, withdrawals from Roth IRAs do not have restrictions on their use.

In the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act 2.0 (“SECURE 2.0”) enacted by Congress at the end of 2022, it is now possible to roll over 529 plan account assets to a Roth IRA in the name of the account beneficiary, free of income and excise taxes.

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