Should I establish a trust for my child's college education fund?
The answer depends first on your financial objectives and then on other factors that will influence those objectives. Trusts are frequently used to minimize estate taxes, get professional management of assets, and control funds while providing for minor children. If these features correspond with your overall financial strategy, a trust can be an efficient way to fund a college education.
However, trusts have certain disadvantages. Generally, you need a significant lump sum to initiate a trust. Also, trusts are often expensive to maintain (e.g., a trust must file a separate tax return). Tax consequences, attorney fees, and the possibility that your child's eligibility for financial aid will be negatively impacted may also be drawbacks to this type of funding.
Two types of trusts often used for college education funds are a Section 2503(c) trust and a Crummey trust. The Section 2503(c) trust controls funds like a classic trust: A trustee manages the funds for the child's benefit, and at age 21, the child receives the remaining principal and income. With a Crummey trust, the beneficiary can withdraw periodic contributions made to the trust for a set period of time after they're made. It is also unique in that it allows multiple beneficiaries and does not mandate distribution at age 21.
If your specific objective is to fund a college education through investments and fund growth, you may want to investigate other alternatives. Custodial accounts offer some of the benefits of trusts as well as other advantages. They are usually convenient, less expensive to set up and maintain, and require less initial funding than trusts. There are also tax-sheltered savings plans, if tax benefits are important to you.