This depends on the names in which the EE U.S. savings bonds were issued. At the time of purchase, a bond can be registered to a single person (“single ownership”) or to two people (“co-ownership”), or it can be registered to a primary owner and a beneficiary (“beneficiary”). In the case of co-ownership, either named individual can do whatever he or she likes with the bond without consent of the other person; if one dies, the other becomes the single owner.
In the case of beneficiary registration (bond is marked POD for “payable on death”), the primary owner controls the bond, and ownership (including the responsibility of paying taxes on the interest) passes to the beneficiary if the primary owner dies. Ownership of Series EE bonds can be transferred, which is called a “reissue” by the U.S. Treasury.
For example, if a grandparent wants to give a grandchild some money, bonds can be reissued in the child’s name. A transfer of ownership, where a living person who was an owner relinquishes all ownership of a bond, is a taxable event.
This means that the person giving the bonds (the “principal owner”) incurs a tax liability for the accrued interest up to the date of transfer and must pay federal (but not state) income tax on this amount. It’s essential to keep good records until the time when the beneficiary finally cashes the bonds in.
Recall that some interest on the bond was paid at the time of reissue. Because someone paid some tax on that interest already, the person cashing in the bond should not pay tax on the full amount.
The Treasury Department’s Web site has the required forms for reissuing Series EE bonds, namely Public Debt Forms 1851, 1938, and 4000 (www.treasurydirect.gov/NC/FoRMSHome?FormType=SBF&site=indiv#Reissue%20Forms. Each kind of permitted reissue has a special form with the instructions.
Information on reissuing bonds can be found at http://www.treasurydirect.gov/indiv/research/indepth/ebonds/res_e_bonds_eereplace.htm.
If the bonds were issued in your children’s names only (or your husband’s name and your children’s names), they will be theirs, even if the amounts are different. You could deal with this in your estate planning by equalizing the bonds with other assets and explaining it to your children.
You can determine the current value of paper EE bonds at http://www.treasurydirect.gov/BC/SBCPrice.
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