In response to a comment by one of the
legions of followers of this blog, 529 plans have a unique benefit that
allows for significant one time contributions without paying gift
taxes. As with any gifts, $12,000 per year can be gifted to another
individual tax-free ($24,000 for a married couple). For example, a
couple can contribute up to $24,000 per granchild each year without
generating tax implications for either side.
The benefit that is unique to 529s is that the same married couple
can contribute $120,000 in one year to an individual, tax free. (Note
that the maximum is $60,000 for an individual making the contribution).
This amount would then be treated as if it had been contributed in
equal payments over five years, and no further contributions can be
made during that period if the full amount is contributed initially.
This provides some handy estate tax benefits. Even though the
contributor could be the account owner, and thus controller of the
account, the gift reduces the estate by the amount contributed. It also
allows the earnings on the investment to begin compounding tax free
earlier than would otherwise be the case.