The “tax extenders” legislation that became law in December included the “Achieving a Better Life Experience Act” (also called the ABLE Act). This law provides for tax-exempt accounts that can help you or a family member with disabilities pay for qualified expenses related to the disability. These “ABLE accounts” are exempt from income tax although contributions to an account are not deductible on your federal income tax return. ABLE accounts are generally not means tested and some can provide limited bankruptcy protection.
You or a family member are eligible to open an ABLE account if:
1. You’re entitled to social security disability benefits due to blindness or other disability, and that blindness or disability occurred before age 26; or
2. You file a disability certification with the IRS for the tax year.
Annual contributions to an ABLE account are limited to the amount of the annual gift tax exclusion ($14,000 for 2015). Distributions are tax-free as long as they are less than your qualified disability expenses for the year. The list of qualified disability expenses includes housing, education, employment training/support, health prevention/wellness services, financial management, legal fees, and funeral expenses. Other expenses are also approved under the regulations.
Distributions exceeding qualified disability expenses are included in taxable income and are generally subject to a 10% penalty tax. Distributions can be rolled over to another ABLE account for another qualified beneficiary and beneficiaries can be changed between family members. Funds in the account can earn interest or dividends and are not subject to federal income tax as long as distributions are used for qualified disability expenses. ABLE accounts do not have a “use it or lose it” feature and funds can carry over to future years.
The balance remaining in the account after the beneficiary passes away can be used to reimburse state Medicaid payments made on behalf of the beneficiary after the account was established. The remainder goes to the deceased’s estate or to another qualified designated beneficiary. After-death distributions that are not used for qualified disability purposes are subject to income taxes, but not the 10% penalty.
If you are thinking many of these rules sound familiar, you’re correct. ABLE accounts are modeled on 529 college savings accounts and can be as powerful and beneficial. Give us a call so we can help you make the most of this new opportunity.David Bradsher, CPA