But the procedure may be different on a state-by-state basis, says Los Angeles-based attorney and financial specialist Michael Eisenberg. "If you don't name a secondary owner or if you don't have adequate estate planning documents, your estate could go through probate and that could tie up the funds for a very long time."
To ensure college savings are used the way they would like, parents can have 529 plan withdrawals distributed by the executor of their will. The executor can then apply specific rules for the money being used for education.
[Learn how grandparents can get education tax breaks.]
However, it's not guaranteed the rules families spell out will be followed
"You could request that the executor of your estate use the funds for the college education that you initially desired but just be aware that there could be beneficiaries who contest the will. Remember that sometimes beneficiaries plus money equals litigation," Eisenberg says.
In summary, name primary and secondary successors who will follow your wishes, Eisenberg says. But also prepare for possible taxes if the successor takes over.
"Check your state 529 plan rules to make sure that there are no state restrictions on ownership transferability," Eisenberg says. "You don't want to be surprised that upon the original owner's death, the transfer to a new owner would be subject to tax."
Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for College center.