By Brian H. Breuel

Putting aside a college fund for your grandchildren is sensible and admirable, but remember to enrich their lives and yours in the here and now.

I would imagine every grandparent has thought, if not promised, that their grandchild will have opportunities that only we as grandparents can provide. And as unlikely as that claim may be in fact, we know from the first moment we hold that new generation that we do have something unique to offer. And yet, when we begin to think of ways to deliver on that promise, we tend to revert to the more obvious vehicles, such as custodial accounts, 529 plans, annual gifts of stock or mutual funds. Please don\’t get me wrong. These are valuable ways to help our grandchildren and our children, and I\’ll offer some thoughts about them in a moment. But what I am recommending is thinking outside the box.

This notion struck me when my wife started naming the things she wanted to do for (and with) our first grandson. It was a litany of life-enriching experiences: sailing and snorkeling in the Caribbean, studying the stars in the Princeton Observatory, touring the great museums in this country and abroad, Outward Bound adventures. I, on the other hand, with my basketful of degrees and designations, was thinking like a financial planner. Clearly my wife was on a more valuable track. It lent credibility to her contention that perhaps I am educated well beyond my intelligence. Becoming grands has opened our eyes in ways we never thought possible.

My point is not to dissuade you from funding a college or graduate school education. It is to suggest that you think more deeply about the experiences that have been most valuable and enriching in your life and to expand that list for the growth and development of those special little people we call grandchildren. One of my clients is a single grandmother who takes her grandson to a different country each summer. Another pays for a summer camp in Massachusetts, the same summer camp both she and her daughter attended. There are wonderful opportunities well before college begins and during the years when we can have a positive influence and, in many cases, the mobility to join them.

Education is important, but it comes in many forms and it starts far earlier than college. Consider a fund for educational opportunities that can be experienced as an elementary school- or middle school student. Remember that a 529 plan cannot be used for high school. And remember that the changes in the tax laws eliminated the ability to shift custodial account taxes to children at age 14. Keep the funds under your control and decide how they should be spent. Never let the “tax tail wag the dog.”

I have a number of clients whose parents made appreciated stock gifts to their grandchildren when they were very young. It has not always been easy for these children to handle large stock accounts at the age of majority. Consider the use of trusts if you are gifting assets that are likely to appreciate. Make the trusts long-term trusts. The laws in many jurisdictions allow for “dynasty trusts,” which can serve multiple generations. In addition to protecting the grandchildren from themselves and their inexperience, a trust can protect them from the claims of creditors and failed marriages.

Finally, if you want to use 529 plans, visit http://www.savingforcollege.com. This is the best Web site to review the plans available in all states. You are not restricted to the state of your residence. Read about the state income tax incentives that exist in your domicile and see if it is worth enough to keep you invested there. And choose a commission-free plan if possible. Many states have plans that automatically adjust the investments toward fixed income as the child approaches the freshman year.

Brian H. Breuel is the owner of Wealth Strategies LLC, a comprehensive financial planning and fee-based wealth manage­ment firm in Lawrenceville, N.J. He is also the author of The Complete Idiot\’s Guide to Buying Insurance and Annuities and Staying Wealthy: Strategies for Protecting Your Assets. For more information visit his Web site at http://www.staying-wealthy.com.

Christine Crosby, a grandmother and great-grandmother, has been a successful entrepreneur, book and magazine publisher, and child/family advocate for 30 years. At 61, she is the perfect example of why the traditional grandparent images no longer apply. A dynamic, blond, high-energy entrepreneur, Christine is a passionate and articulate advocate for children who has worked for more than 20 years to strengthen families and protect abused kids, first as a book publisher and later as the founder and publisher of a chain of family magazines. Her own grandchildren and great-grandchild were the inspiration for GRAND Magazine, an unprecedented resource for today's grandparents.