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Pitfalls and Solutions For Beneficiary Designations When Your Kids are Minors

by | Nov 27, 2023 | Estate Planning, Firm News

In estate planning, one of the most crucial yet challenging decisions is how best to provide for minors. Parents and guardians often grapple with the best approach to ensure financial security for their young beneficiaries in the event of the parent’s death. While it’s tempting to opt for seemingly straightforward solutions, such as naming a minor or a proxy adult as a direct beneficiary, these choices often lead to unintended consequences. Here, we delve into the pitfalls of common, yet dangerous, beneficiary designation strategies and advocate at the end for a more effective alternative.

1. Naming a Minor Child as Beneficiary: A Seemingly Direct Approach

Understanding the Allure

Many choose to name a minor child as a beneficiary under the impression of directness and simplicity. It appears as a straightforward way to ensure that assets are left directly to the child, bypassing other family members or intermediaries.

The Legal and Financial Implications

  •  Legal Incompetence of Minors: Legally, minors cannot control substantial
    assets. This results in the court appointing a conservator, introducing additional
    legal proceedings, delays, and potential conflicts. We’ve dealt with many
    conservatorship situations, arising because a minor was left assets by their
    parent without a trust, and it can be a real pain to seek court permission for all
    major decisions.
  • Financial Maturity Concerns: Handing over substantial assets to a young adult
    at age 18 is a good way to let the money be blown. Without the maturity and
    experience to manage large sums, this could lead to rapid depletion of the funds
    through mismanagement or impulsive spending. Even smart or mature kids likely
    won’t be equipped to manage a large sum of money. Further, young adults are
    easily influenced by people you might not want to influence your child’s use of
  • Educational and Developmental Impacts: Sudden financial independence may
    also adversely affect the child’s motivation for education and personal
    development, as they might perceive less need to strive for academic or
    professional achievements.

2. Naming an Adult as a Proxy for a Minor Child: Trusting Moral Obligation

The Appeal

The idea of naming a trusted adult to manage assets for a minor seems practical. We see many people name an adult as a beneficiary based on a verbal agreement that the adult will take care of their child with the money. It’s often seen as a way to ensure that someone responsible will manage and disburse the funds for the child’s benefit.

The Hidden Risks

  • No Legal Guarantee: Despite moral expectations, the adult beneficiary is likely
    under no legal obligation to use the funds for the child’s benefit. This opens up
    possibilities for misuse or diversion of the assets. If the proxy adult dies before all
    of the funds are used, their estate beneficiaries or creditors will get the money,
    not necessarily your kids.
  • Exposure to Legal and Financial Challenges: Assets under the adult’s name
    become part of their legal and financial profile, making them vulnerable to their
    personal creditors, legal disputes, and other financial obligations.
  • Relationship Dynamics: Over time, changes in the relationship between the
    adult and the child’s family can lead to complications in the intended
    management and distribution of the funds.


3. Designating Your Probate Estate as Beneficiary

The Rationale

Some might consider naming their probate estate as a beneficiary, assuming it simplifies the process and leaves the distribution decisions to the will or state law. It’s true that if you have a will and name your estate as beneficiary of your account or life insurance, your will would control distribution, but do you really want the money to go through probate?

The Complications

  • The Probate Process: This subjects the assets to probate, often a lengthy and
    public process that can diminish the estate’s value through legal fees and reduce
    the privacy of the estate’s distribution. It’s likely that an interested person could
    use public probate information to figure out what kind of money or property your
    child inherited.
  • Lack of Specificity and Control: Probate distribution follows the terms of the
    will or state law (Georgia for us), which may not reflect specific wishes for each
    beneficiary, unless you have a will with specific provisions related to trustee
    management of the minor’s share of your estate. This can lead to unintended
    consequences, such as conservatorship or too much money in the hands of a
    youthful beneficiary when they turn 18.
  • Time Delays: The probate process can delay the availability of funds to
    beneficiaries, potentially impacting their immediate financial needs.

Workable Solution: Naming a Living Trust as Beneficiary

Strategic Advantages

A living trust offers a formal way to provide for minors, combining flexibility, control, and protection in a single estate planning tool. Many people have begun using living trusts to accomplish their goals of caring for their children while avoiding the pitfalls associated with the beneficiary designation strategies discussed above.

  • Controlled Distribution: Unlike direct beneficiary designations, a trust allows for                    stipulating specific terms for asset distribution – such as age milestones,
    educational achievements, or other conditions.
  • Protection from Creditors and Legal Disputes: Assets in a trust are generally
    protected from the beneficiaries’ creditors (if there is an independent trustee) and
    personal legal issues, ensuring the funds are used as intended. They are also
    generally protected from the trustee’s legal problems, unlike when you name an
    adult as a beneficiary with the hope that they’ll use the funds for your child.
  • Avoidance of Probate: You can name the Trust as a direct beneficiary of your
    life insurance or account, thereby bypassing the probate process, leading to a
    more efficient, private, and cost-effective transfer.
  • Flexibility and Revocability: Living trusts can be altered or revoked as
    circumstances change, allowing for dynamic estate planning that adapts to
    evolving family needs.


When planning for the future of minors, it is essential to navigate the complexities of beneficiary designations with care and foresight. While naming a minor or an adult as a direct beneficiary, or designating your probate estate, might seem simple and easy, these options carry hidden risks and complications. A living trust, on the other hand, offers a comprehensive solution, balancing control, flexibility, and protection. At Bryant &O’Connor Law Firm, we specialize in crafting personalized estate plans that safeguard your legacy and ensure the well-being of your young beneficiaries. Please feel free to
call us to schedule a planning session for your family! If you live in a state other than Georgia, research lawyers experienced in designing estate plans that ensure your assets properly benefit your children.

This blog post is intended as educational content that will motivate you to explore ways to protect your family, but it is not legal advice. Estate planning and caring for minor children are not simple matters, and no generic information can be expected to address all issues applicable to you, and comprehensive legal analysis by an attorney who has an opportunity to analyze your assets and discuss your motivations is essential. Please do not rely on the content of this article without a planning session with us or another
qualified attorney.