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From living wills to life insurance: What parents need to know

Jennifer Chidester

If you’re not sure of the difference between a will and a living will, or haven’t yet discussed who would care for your kids in case something happens to you, you owe it to your kids to start planning now.

Couple making out their will

From guardianship to life insurance, here’s everything you need to know to make sure your kids are cared for even if you’re gone.

Recently I was diagnosed with cancer and I was forced to think about what life would be like for my family if I wasn’t here to take care of them. God forbid something happened to me — I didn’t have life insurance, I hadn’t started paying toward my funeral expenses and, being the control freak that I am, there are definitely wishes that I’d want to be upheld in the event that I couldn’t advocate for them myself.

Estate planning is easy to neglect but it’s one part of being a parent that should always be pushed to the top of your to-do list. It lets you plan for the care of your children, it ensures that your property will be transferred according to your wishes and it determines who will handle the business affairs of your estate. According to attorney Vikki Ziegler, if you want your children to be protected in the event that you pass away or become incapacitated, these tools are necessary for that planning process.

Wills and living wills

A will or testament is a legal declaration by which you name one or more persons to manage your estate. It provides for the distribution of your property at death. ?A living will lets you determine what happens to you in end-of-life and life support situations. Ziegler notes that in some states, living wills are called by other names, like Health Care Directives. While a living will is important to have just in case life throws you a curve ball — like an auto accident — if you’re currently battling with an illness, this is a critical document to have in place so your wishes are known and fully documented.


According to Ziegler, a guardianship is a legal right given to a person to be responsible for the food, health care, housing and other necessities of a person deemed fully or partially incapable of providing these necessities for himself or herself. When nominating a guardian for your children, it’s important to discuss those plans with the person you’re nominating and make sure they’re comfortable with the commitment and capable (physically, financially and more) of seeing it through. It’s also smart to name an alternate guardian in the event that your first choice becomes unable to fulfill their obligation.

?Life insurance

Life insurance gives loved ones named as beneficiaries financial protection in the event of your death. If you don’t already have an estate plan or life insurance policy, there are some great resources online to get you started. The nonprofit organization, Life Foundation, offers two great questions to get your planning kicked off. How much money will my family need after my death to meet immediate expenses, like funeral expenses and debts? How much money will my family need to maintain their standard of living over the long run? The site also helps you with a capital needs analysis and free life insurance needs calculator.

Witnesses and updating your documents

Make sure that all of your documents are up to date and properly witnessed. No one who is a beneficiary, a minor, a guardian or anyone who’s named an executor should be used as a witness, to avoid potential legal problems later. Also, make sure you review and update your estate plan, especially as it relates to the guardianship of your children. Relationships evolve, people divorce or pass away, and it’s not uncommon to realize later down the road that another person or couple might be a better fit for your children, should they need a guardian.

More about being prepared

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