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Legal Considerations In Gifts To Minors Shouldn't Be Overlooked

Is a property transfer to your child or other minor a possible event on your horizon? If it is, just don't cover yourself on the tax consequences of such transfers. There are important legal considerations over and above the transfer's tax impact.

Is a property transfer to your child or other minor a possible event on your horizon? If it is, just don't cover yourself on the tax consequences of such transfers. There are important legal considerations over and above the transfer's tax impact.

If you're considering a substantial gift to a young child, usually you don't let him or her take direct control of the property. Instead, one of two popular ways of transferring property is generally used -- through custodianships and trusts. Here are some points to consider.

Custodianship

Most states have adopted the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA), with some variations. Under the UTMA, a person can transfer any type of property to a custodian (an adult), who manages it for a minor's benefit (the minor owns the property) until the minor reaches a certain age (the "age of majority," which is 18 or 21, depending on state law).

Since a minor or custodian could face possible personal liability problems via ownership of cars, real estate, etc., the UTMA in general gives protection for the minor and custodian from personal liability (if they are not personally at fault) to third parties.

However, custodianships can have drawbacks:

When the minor reaches the specified age, there is no guarantee he or she will handle the property in a responsible manner.
Once a person transfers the property to a custodial account, that donor can no longer get it back. Taking money from the custodial account could cause someone to be sued, or it could be prosecuted as a criminal act.
Custodial accounts may cause financial aid from colleges to be reduced -- those amounts are considered to go 100 percent toward what a student is expected to contribute for his or her educational expenses.
A custodianship can be set up for only one beneficiary -- for instance a parent cannot legally transfer money from the custodial account of one of their children to the custodial account of another.

Trusts

People often opt to use custodianships rather than trusts because there is less paperwork and generally lower administrative costs. Custodianships can be set up quite informally, while trusts can be more elaborate and require more formalities.

When large amounts are involved, most people use trusts rather than custodianships even though there are greater administrative costs. For instance, a trust will give someone more flexibility to specify at what age a trust beneficiary will be distributed trust funds. A trust can also allow the donor to split benefits among several beneficiaries.

If you are thinking about making a cash or other property transfer to a minor, please contact this office so that we can further discuss how to use the various options to properly carry out your intentions.

If and only to the extent that this publication contains contributions from tax professionals who are subject to the rules of professional conduct set forth in Circular 230, as promulgated by the United States Department of the Treasury, the publisher, on behalf of those contributors, hereby states that any U.S. federal tax advice that is contained in such contributions was not intended or written to be used by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer by the Internal Revenue Service, and it cannot be used by any taxpayer for such purpose.