Term Life Insurance: Think Twice About a Child Beneficiary

UPDATED: Mar 26, 2020

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When you apply for term life insurance, you will be asked to select a beneficiary (or beneficiaries) for the policy. Naturally, you may choose to list your spouse or minor children without giving it much thought. While listing your spouse is common, adding your children as beneficiaries on your term life insurance policy may not be.

While you certainly have the option to list your children and no life insurance company is going to prevent you from doing so, many experts agree there are better choices to make. Proper planning now will mean fewer problems for your loved ones and in the end will be better for your children. Consider the following before naming a minor as a beneficiary on your term life insurance policy. 

Minor Children Need a Guardian

Life Insurance companies are not able to pay death benefit proceeds to minors, even if they are listed as the beneficiary of a term life insurance policy. If a death claim is filed and a minor is found to be the beneficiary, the case will be sent to probate to determine the appropriate course of action. Once a guardian comes forward or has been named, the court may arrange for the proceeds to be placed in the guardian’s control to care for the minor child. 

Young Beneficiaries May Squander the Money

If your child is 18 (or 21 in some states), she is longer be considered a minor and can take receipt of the proceeds. However, that is still a very young age to be trusted with a potentially large sum of money. Are you confident you can trust someone of that age to be financially responsible enough to handle the funds? Even if you are, you may want to consider an arrangement that would hold the funds until a later age, or distribute the funds over a period of time rather than in one lump sum. Just think of what you would have done at age 18! Most of us would not have saved or invested that kind of money. 

Consider Naming a Trust as Beneficiary

A safe option is to meet with an attorney and establish a trust to name as the beneficiary of the term life insurance policy. Setting up a trust allows you to control the distribution of the funds and helps ensure they will be used for their intended purpose. You can also specify who the trustee(s) will be, adding another level of security. Attorneys who specialize in estate planning are good for helping you design a strategy best suited to your needs. 

Keeping the Money With the Life Insurance Company

You may be wondering why we would ever suggest such a thing. We must be joking, right? While not always the best option, it can be very useful in some instances. Many life insurance companies will allow you to keep the proceeds in an account with the insurance company for a period while earning interest. This could be an option if your minor child is close to the age of majority when your policy is issued. It may also be appropriate if you have not yet established a trust, or if you have no one in mind to be the guardian of your child. 

Name a Guardian in Place of Your Child

If you have a family member or other trusted person that will take care of your child, you can name this person as a beneficiary in place of your minor child. However, understand that the life insurance company doesn’t have any authority to force the guardian to use the money to care for your children. The guardian, if named as beneficiary, could do whatever they please with the money, so trust is, of course, the main factor in considering this option. 

Uniform Transfer to Minors Act

Most life insurance companies will allow you to name your minor beneficiary and also name the financial custodian, under the Uniform Transfer to Minors Act. This act, implemented in most states, allows for the transfer of money to a financial custodian who will manage the money until the child reaches adulthood (age 18 – 21, depending on the state). If you are considering this option, ask your life insurance agent to verify if this is allowed in your state, and to supply the appropriate paperwork.

As you can see, there are some important considerations when naming a minor child as a beneficiary on your term life insurance policy. Having something in writing, such as a trust or other legal document, is your best protection. If you are unsure about your options, talk with a licensed insurance professional or an attorney who specializes in estate planning.

Tim Bain

Tim is a licensed life insurance agent with 23 years of experience helping people protect their families and businesses with term life insurance. He writes and creates stuff for QuickQuote and other insurance and financial websites. You can find him on Twitter.

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