Important Tips for SGLI Beneficiary Election as Part of Estate Planning

By Hannah Deardorff, Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office

Most people seem to understand the importance of creating a Last Will and Testament. Doing so allows loved ones to more easily navigate the often-complicated matter of settling a person’s estate and affairs in the event of their death. However, oftentimes service members do not always fully grasp the importance of properly setting up their Servicemembers Group Life Insurance Beneficiary Election benefits.

Your SGLI does not permit you to designate beneficiaries “by law” or “by will,” which simply means that your SGLI must list your principal (first) and contingent (second) beneficiaries explicitly. It is a separate contract from a will, as those assets pass outside of a will.

Making Sure the Right People Receive Your Benefits

It is not recommended to name minor children directly as beneficiaries. If you do this and your child inherits while they are a minor, the insurance will be paid either to 1) the court-appointed guardian of the child’s estate or 2) to the child when he/she reaches the age of majority.

If your will creates a trust for a minor child, you can designate the “Trustee for Child/Children’s Trust” as a beneficiary or “My Trustee to Fund a Trust Established for the Benefit of my children under my Will.”

Typically, if you are married and your will leaves your estate to your spouse (and, secondarily, to you children in trust, if your spouse predeceases you), then your SGLI would likely be “Spouse – Primary – 100%, and Trustee for Children’s Trust – Secondary – 100%.

To add minor children as beneficiaries, either primary or secondary, with a named Trustee to hold their assets, under “Relationship” select “Other” and under “Description” type “As Trustee, to fund a trust for my children, under my Will” and name the Trustee in the “First Name/Last Name” boxes.  

If you do not have a will that sets up a trust for a minor child, you cannot create a trust through your SGLI. You can set up a Custodian to manage and use funds for a minor beneficiary’s benefit until they turn 18 or 19, when the funds are released to them. To do this under “Relationship,” select “Other” and under “Description” type, put “As custodian for my child(ren) pursuant to UGMA/UTMA,” and name the custodian in the “First Name/Last Name” boxes. UGMA is the “Universal Gifts to Minors Act” and UTMA is the “Universal Transfers to Minors Act.”

Wording is Crucial

It is also important to carefully consider how you phrase “my child” or “my children.”

If you designate “my child” this could inadvertently exclude any children who are born after the SGLI is completed. Additionally, if you have children from a previous marriage, you should be very specific about which children you are designating. If you have stepchildren, adopted children, or children born out of wedlock, it is important to include their specific names, so there is no confusion as to your intent.

One important thing to note: if your SGLI is your main asset, you may not need a will at this time, because your SGLI benefits will pass outside of the will anyway.

Service members can update their SGLI enrollment online through MilConnect.

If you wish to create a will or have any questions about SGLI designations, the Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office is available to help. You can schedule an appointment to speak with a Legal Assistance attorney by sending an email to