Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Oct 3, 2012

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I purchased a life insurance policy to be used for my childrens’ college education. I don’t know how to safely designate how the money should be given out. Can I just name an executor?

You have illustrated one of the major shortcomings of Life Insurance and 401(k), and IRA beneficiary designations.

These plans make it real easy to make a simple beneficiary designation. And you can even name several people as beneficiaries. In the event of death the proceeds of the policy or plan would go directly to the beneficiary and avoid going through probate. But complicated designations, with all sorts of contingencies, are rare.

Why not name the kids as beneficiaries directly? If the beneficiaries are under 18 at the time of death, the money is held for them (with interest) until they are of age. And at 18 they get it; of course if they decide to get a new car instead of attend college, poof, there goes the money. Only a type of trust agreement would permit the money to be held and used only for schooling, etc., but that is expensive.