With Father's Day approaching, fathers and mothers alike should use that greeting card holiday a reminder to look out for their children well into the future.
A will is a big part of those future plans.
"While everyone needs a will to settle money matters, there's a far more compelling reason to have one if you have kids," says Melinda Kibler, Certified Financial Planner and portfolio manager with Palisades Hudson Financial Group's Fort Lauderdale, Fla. office. "Naming a trustworthy, caring guardian for your children is one of the most important things you can do."
As Kibler notes, the lack of a will can create problems if both you and your spouse or partner die, or if you're a single parent. If your child or children have a living biological parent who does not have custody, she also notes that courts will almost always give custody to that individual if he or she comes forward. If you've remarried and started a family with someone else, however, that can result in separating siblings.
Meanwhile, if you have remarried and your current partner hasn't formally adopted your children, there is no guarantee that your partner will get custody. Instead, children may go grandparents, aunts, uncles, or even into foster care, depending on the court and on the state's laws.
"In the absence of a will, the court may create messy custody battles or award custody to a family member who may not have volunteered to raise your children," she says.
The lack of a will might also mean that you're leaving your children not only with no idea of how they'll be looked after financially, but with someone who isn't fiscally responsible if you do leave assets for then. Kim Dula, a partner at Marlton, N.J.-based Friedman LLP notes that a will clarifies your intentions and protects your family from both creditors and their own spending habits -- but only if it's in place.
"The biggest thing that I see repeatedly, though, beyond people who don't have a will, is people who don't revisit them," Dula says. "Maybe they have that will created when they're very young, but that will has to be revisited as your family grows, as your career grows as your assets grow and as tax laws change. It's an investment in their family's financial future and well-being."