If you open a 529 college savings account for a child or grandchild, you’ll be asked to name a successor or contingent owner of the account. Then, if you die or become incapacitated, the successor–perhaps your spouse–can take over the 529 account.
In most 529 plans, the successor will have the right to request a refund of any or all account assets. Thus, you need to name a successor you trust absolutely. Otherwise, at your death or incapacity, the successor could cash out the account (although with taxes and penalties) and keep the money for personal use.
But if you do not name a successor, in many 529 plans the account beneficiary (for minors, the beneficiary’s guardian) then becomes the account owner by default. Do you really want your 19-year-old to have unlimited access to all the money in the account?
Therefore, you should name someone you trust as your successor. Alternatively, name a trust as the successor. The terms you set out when you establish the trust can restrict the future actions of the trustee so you’ll be assured that the assets really are used to pay for higher education.