A common estate planning mistake is to designate a minor as beneficiary — or contingent beneficiary — of a life insurance policy or retirement plan. Insurance companies and financial institutions won’t pay large sums of money directly to a minor. Instead, they’ll require costly court proceedings to appoint a guardian to manage the child’s inheritance.
There’s no guarantee the guardian appointed by the court will be the person you’d choose. Let’s suppose that you’re divorced and appoint your minor children from that marriage as beneficiaries. If you die while the children are still minors, a guardian for the assets will be required. The court will likely appoint their living parent — your ex-spouse — which may be inconsistent with your wishes.
There’s another problem with naming a minor as a beneficiary: The funds will have to be turned over to the child after he or she reaches the age of majority (18 or 21, depending on state law). Generally, that isn’t the ideal age for a child to gain unrestricted access to large sums of money.
Name a trust as beneficiary
A better strategy is to designate one or more trusts as beneficiaries of the policy or plan. This approach provides several advantages: Not only does it avoid the need for guardianship proceedings but it also gives you the opportunity to select the trustee who’ll be responsible for managing the assets. And it allows you to determine when the child will receive the funds and under what circumstances.
Beneficiary designations shouldn’t be taken lightly. Should you wish our help in choosing the proper beneficiary based on your situation, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or your Berdon advisor.
Scott T. Ditman, a tax partner and Chair, Personal Wealth Services at Berdon LLP, advises high net worth individuals and family/owner-managed business clients on building, preserving, and transferring wealth, estate and income tax issues, and succession and financial planning.