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How to Change the Beneficiary of Your 529 Plan


The 529 Plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage saving for future education costs. The beneficiary of the plan is the individual designated to use the funds for educational expenses. This plan is an excellent way to secure the educational future of a child or any designated individual. However, there can be instances where it becomes necessary or advantageous to change the beneficiary of a 529 plan, and here’s how you can do it. For any 529 plan needs, though, you may want to consult with a financial advisor.

Reasons to Change Your 529 Plan Beneficiary

A 529 plan, named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, is a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage saving for future education costs. This plan is typically set up by parents, guardians or other relatives for a child’s future college expenses. The beneficiary is the individual who will ultimately receive the benefits from the plan, usually intended to be used to pay for college. The beneficiary designation is a crucial aspect of the plan because it determines who will be able to use the funds for qualifying educational expenses.

However, there might come a time when the planholder feels the need to change the beneficiary. This is a process that involves notifying your plan provider and providing them with the relevant information about the new beneficiary. To illustrate this process, let’s consider a scenario where the initial beneficiary decides not to pursue a higher education. The plan holder might then want to change the beneficiary to another family member who can utilize the funds for educational expenses.

Numerous factors, including changes in family structure, educational needs and financial circumstances, can motivate a plan holder to change their 529 plan beneficiary. For instance, the birth of a new child or adoption may necessitate a change in beneficiary. Similarly, if the original beneficiary decides to attend a less expensive school, the excess funds can be redirected to another beneficiary after they are done using the plan.

Changes in the plan holder’s income or wealth may also influence this decision. For example, if the plan holder’s financial situation improves significantly, they may choose to fund another child’s education who was not initially considered.

How to Change a 529 Plan Beneficiary

A father helping his son pay for college with the savings from a 529 plan.

To change the beneficiary, you’ll typically need the new beneficiary’s Social Security Number or tax identification number, date of birth and other basic identifying information. This information is essential to ensure the proper transfer of funds and to maintain the tax advantages of the 529 plan. Changing the beneficiary of a 529 plan typically involves the following steps:

  1. Notify your plan provider of the intended change.
  2. Complete a form detailing the new beneficiary’s information.
  3. Submit this form to the plan provider.

While this process is generally straightforward, it’s essential to ensure that all information is accurate to prevent any potential complications. A small error could lead to unnecessary delays or even tax implications.

Potential Tax Consequences of Changing the Beneficiary

The 529 education savings plan is a type of investment account that offers tax advantages for those saving for future education expenses. It’s an invaluable tool for many families preparing for the high costs of education. However, significant tax implications can come up when the beneficiary of a 529 plan is changed. Specifically, the plan’s tax-advantaged status may shift, potentially altering the benefits that originally made the 529 plan appealing.

If the new beneficiary is not a family member of the original beneficiary, this change could be seen as a non-qualified distribution. In simpler terms, the earnings portion of the distribution could be subject to income tax and a 10% penalty. Additionally, if the beneficiary is changed to someone in a lower income bracket, the plan’s earnings could be subject to lower taxes.

However, altering the beneficiary could also affect a student’s eligibility for financial aid, as the 529 plan could now be viewed as an asset. This means that a student who was previously not considered for financial aid might now be eligible due to a change in their financial profile.

It’s important to analyze all of the potential consequences of changing the beneficiary before you move forward. It can also help you make sure you do it properly so that there are no issues that come up in the future.

Debunking the Myths of Changing the Beneficiary in a 529 Plan

Here are three common misconceptions about changing the beneficiary in a 529 plan that can mislead investors:

  • You can’t make yourself the beneficiary: An individual can indeed be their own beneficiary. This can be advantageous for adults planning to return to school or further their education. For instance, a parent could switch the beneficiary from their child to themselves if they decide to attend graduate school.
  • You must change beneficiaries to avoid withdrawal taxation: Tax implications of 529 plan withdrawals are based on how the funds are used, not who the beneficiary is. If the withdrawals are used for qualified education expenses, they remain tax-free, regardless of any beneficiary changes. For example, if a sibling becomes the new beneficiary and uses the funds for their college tuition, the withdrawals continue to be tax-free. Understanding how 529 plan withdrawals are taxed can guide more effective utilization of these funds.
  • The only reason to change the beneficiary is leftover money: There are many valid reasons to change the beneficiary. For example, if the original beneficiary decides not to attend college or receives a full scholarship, the plan owner might want to change the beneficiary to another family member who can use the funds for their education. Changing the beneficiary of a 529 plan can serve multiple purposes depending on your family’s needs and circumstances.

Bottom Line

A college graduate looking back on her accomplishment after having paid for her education with a 529 plan.

Changing a 529 plan beneficiary involves considering several elements, including the beneficiary’s age, educational aspirations and the tax implications tied to such a switch. The change can occur under certain conditions, such as the beneficiary reaching the age of majority or deciding not to pursue higher education. Moreover, this shift can carry significant tax implications if it isn’t done correctly. You may want to work with a financial advisor to help you go through this process the right way.

Tips for College Planning

  • A financial advisor can help you create a savings plan to finance your education goals. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • In the event you’re looking to open a 529 plan, consider analyzing our list of the best 529 plans.

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