If you have minor children you definitely should have a will. Parents I talk to say they've been meaning to get around to it, they can't afford it, or don't see why they need one because they have no "estate". I have added estate planning to my practice to counter these very arguments. My intention is to make it affordable and easy to take care of this important matter.
If you have life insurance, and you should, your children will have an estate.
Here are the provisions you should have in your will.
Guardian of a minor child
A guardian is the person you designate to take care of your children if both parents are dead. If a parent dies the other parent automatically is the guardian. Even if the parents are divorced the children would go with the other parent unless a court has found something seriously wrong with that parent. While you can state your preference in your will, the other parent has precedence.
The designated guardian should be someone you feel will raise your children with the same values you would. Some parents make a mutual pact with another family to serve as guardians for their children. If you don't have a will, the state will make a determination. You don't want to risk having your children with Child Protective Services until a guardian is selected.
If your chosen guardian lives far away you might want to appoint a temporary or interim guardian. This could be a neighbor or close friend who will step in immediately until the permanent guardian can be reached and is available.
The guardian of the person might not be the person who will manage the children's money. I strongly recomend a different person as the trustee of the children's estate.
Trustee of the Children's Estate
The trustee manages the funds and property you have willed to your children. This can be a large sum if you have life insurance. This is the relative who is good with managing money, a very trusted friend, or a professional trustee. The trustee will disburse funds to the guardian for the care, feeding and education of your children.
By naming a separate trustee and guardian you provide a good check and balance. The nurturing substitute parent you select may not be the best money manager and the best money manager may not be the best nurturing parent. This provides balance and protects the guardian from being questioned as to what happened to the money.
If you are divorced: It is even more important that you name a trustee. If you don't, your ex spouse will be in charge of the children's estate. Probably not what you would prefer.
A Children's Trust
Your will should provide for a trust for the children. Besides naming a trustee, you can designate an age when your children will receive the disbursement. Remember there may be a large sum of money if you have life insurance. Most parents I meet don't want the funds disbursed at age 18, which it will be unless you make other provisions. Some parents designate age 25, some 35 with provisions for partial disbursements at certain ages. The money can be spent on education, and other expenses for the children. Your trustee should have a great deal of discretion but has the power to say no, just as you do.
Get a Will Now
Hopefully I have given you enough reason to get a will. You really should work with a lawyer to make sure your will accomplishes what you intend and that it is effective. I would be happy to discuss options with you.