The Treasury and IRS have released final regulations that provide guidance for Achieve a Better Living Experience (ABLE) programs under Code Sec. 529A to help eligible individuals pay for qualified disability expenses. The regulations provide guidance on:

  • the requirements for ABLE programs,
  • requirements for establishing and contributing to an ABLE account for a designated beneficiary,
  • rules regarding changes in the designated beneficiary of an ABLE account,
  • rollover and transfers from one ABLE account to another, and
  • federal gift and generation-skipping tax consequences of an ABLE account.

The final regulations adopt proposed rules issued in 2015 and 2019 with a few modifications.

Qualified ABLE Programs
A qualified ABLE program is a program established and maintained by a State, or agency or instrumentality of a State. Several factors are provided in the final regulations in determining whether a State, or its agency or instrumentality, is actively involved in the administration of the program. Among those factors is the nature and extent of the State’s role in selecting and overseeing private contractors contracted to provide administrative or other services (for example, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs)).

A qualified ABLE program may be maintained by two or more States or agencies or instrumentalities of a State in a consortium to offer broader investment choices, streamlined program administration, and lower fees for account holders. Consistent with legislation, the final regulations eliminate any reference to a residency requirement and a qualified program may allow an ABLE account to be established for an eligible individual regardless of his or her residence.

ABLE Accounts
An ABLE account is a tax-favored savings account established and owned by an eligible individual under a qualified ABLE program to pay qualified disability expenses of a designated beneficiary. The designated beneficiary of an ABLE account is the eligible individual who established and owns the ABLE account or who has succeeded the former designated beneficiary through a rollover distribution or change of beneficiary.

The final regulations provide that an ABLE account may be established on behalf of the eligible individual by his or her parent, legal guardian, or agent under a power of attorney. In addition, the regulations provide an expanded ordering rule of persons who may establish an ABLE account exercise signature authority over an individual’s ABLE account if necessary.

A qualified ABLE program may provide a certification process that an individual is eligible for an ABLE account, under penalties of perjury. Certification may be made by verifying that the individual is eligible for benefits under title II or XVI of the Social Security Act and the disability giving rise to those benefits occurred before the date on which he or she attained age 26. The other method of satisfying the definition of an eligible individual is by obtaining a disability certification and filing it with the Secretary.

A designated beneficiary is generally limited to only one ABLE account at a time. Once an ABLE account is established, generally no account that is subsequently established for that beneficiary can be treated as an ABLE account except for rollover and transfer purposes, as well as the return of excess contributions. Under the final regulation, an eligible individual is not prohibited from establishing an ABLE account merely because he or she previously closed another ABLE account.

Distributions and Transfers
Distributions from an ABLE account are excluded from the designated beneficiary’s gross income to the extent of his or her qualified disability expenses for the tax year. The final regulations maintain the expansive definition of qualified disability expenses, but the regulations do not provide either a comprehensive list of qualified disability expenses or a short list of expenses that would not satisfy that standard.

A qualified ABLE program may permit a successor designated beneficiary to be named during the lifetime of the designated beneficiary. If no successor designated beneficiary is named, the assets in the ABLE account are payable to the beneficiary’s estate and subject to the Federal estate tax. Moreover, the final regulations permit a qualified ABLE program to limit successor designated beneficiaries to a sibling who is an eligible individual. If a successor designated beneficiary is not a sibling, the former designated beneficiary receives a deemed distribution of the amount transferred to the successor.

The final regulations continue to permit rollovers from ABLE account but do not require the use of a program-to-program transfer. A rollover may occur from a qualified tuition account under Code Sec. 529 to an ABLE account for the same designated beneficiary. However, upon a rollover or program-to-program transfer, all the attributes of the former ABLE account are applicable to the recipient account.

Federal Gift and GST Taxes
The final regulations provide that contributions to an ABLE account by a person other than the designated beneficiary are treated as completed gifts. Thus, no distribution from an ABLE account to the designated beneficiary is treated as a taxable gift. Also, neither gift nor GST taxes apply to the change of designated beneficiary of an ABLE account if the new designated beneficiary is an eligible individual who is a sibling of the former designated beneficiary.