Why Parents Need a Will

If you have children, you need this important document.

Parents, do yourselves (and your children) a favor: Write a will. Over the past few days, two of my friends with children have told me that they didn't have wills. "Yeah, we need to do that," they say. Yes, and here's why you shouldn't put off drafting this important document if you have children.

Your children need a guardian. If something happens to you, someone will need to take care of your children. I know how difficult it can be to decide who will be the right person for the job. In fact, estate planning attorneys often say this is one of the main reasons people put off writing a will. But wouldn't you rather decide who will care for your children rather than letting a judge decide? That's right -- the court will appoint a guardian if you don't name one in a will. So stop putting off this decision, and get peace of mind by designating a guardian of your choice. And name a backup in case something happens to the first person you named.

Your children need someone to manage their money. Even if you're not Daddy Warbucks, chances are you'll have some money to pass on to your children when you die -- or a life insurance policy that will pay out on your death. Do you really want your teenage son to decide how best to spend the cash? A will allows you to name someone (it can be the same person as the guardian) to manage the money and property you leave to your children.

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Expect to pay about $300 for a lawyer to draft a simple will. You could pay up to $1,000 for a more comprehensive estate plan that includes a living will or health-care directive and a power of attorney document. Online forms can be an affordable way to write a will if your finances are uncomplicated (see Cut the Lawyer Out of Your Will?). Even if you do use one of these documents, you should consider getting a lawyer to review it.

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Cameron Huddleston
Former Online Editor, Kiplinger.com

Award-winning journalist, speaker, family finance expert, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.

Cameron Huddleston wrote the daily "Kip Tips" column for Kiplinger.com. She joined Kiplinger in 2001 after graduating from American University with an MA in economic journalism.