With all the hype about gold, stocks and the economy, you may have forgotten other key aspects of personal finance, like life insurance. For many, or maybe even most of us, life insurance is actually a bigger concern. If you or I died prematurely, how else could we protect our loved ones from financial hardship? Advisors will often tell you if you're short of funds and have to choose between investing and buying life insurance, get the insurance. (Would your death leave loved ones financially stranded? Find out how to ease your mind and keep them protected. Check out Life Insurance: Putting A Price On Peace Of Mind.)

TUTORIAL: Introduction To Insurance

Although most people could use at least some life insurance (if only to cover their own funeral expenses), not everyone absolutely has to have it - like a retired suburban couple with $3,000,000 in savings, no children, no mortgage or other major debt, and no college expenses. If one spouse died, the other would probably be just fine financially.

So how do you know if you're a candidate for life insurance? Here are five signs you need the coverage.

1. You're Married with Kids
If you're hitched and have one or more children, life insurance is crucial. If you or your spouse died, the surviving spouse would need the money to keep up with car payments, buy food and clothes for the kids, save for college and retirement, and cover all the other everyday expenses the deceased person would no longer be around to help with. It's not something anyone likes to think about, but it's good to know money would be less of an issue if something happened to you or your spouse.

You might both want to buy life insurance even if you don't have kids yet or don't ever plan to. The sooner you get the coverage, the cheaper it'll be. Besides, you'd probably want your spouse to be taken care of if you died prematurely, even if there weren't any kids in the picture

2. You're Single but Caring for an Aging Parent
Like couples with children, singles who are the main caretakers of an elderly and/or ill parent would probably feel much better knowing the parent is taken care of financially in the event of the caretaker's premature death. That's especially true if the parent would have no other way to pay for a professional replacement, which is extremely expensive. The services of a licensed home health aide, for example, now cost $19 an hour, on average. So the bill for even just a few daily hours of those services a day could easily surpass $20,000 in the course of a year.

3. You Have a Mortgage
You may have heard of at least one case in which somebody's husband or wife died and they had to sell the house and move because they could no longer afford the mortgage. Life insurance can prevent that by providing cash to keep up with mortgage payments or perhaps even pay off the entire loan in one shot, if the policy is big enough. (Before tapping your home equity, find out what can go wrong. See Reverse Mortgage Pitfalls.)

4. You Own a Business and Have Partners
Business partners should always have life insurance on each other in case one of them dies, which can devastate a business because the deceased partner's daily contribution to its success is lost. Insuring the partners' lives can provide cash to help keep the business running in the event of someone's death.

5. It's Your Only Way to Give to Charity
Some people are well off enough that their death wouldn't cause undue hardship for loved ones, but they don't have anything extra to leave to a charity they want very much to help. They can solve this dilemma by purchasing life insurance and naming the charity as a primary beneficiary of the policy.

The Bottom Line
Don't let the constant barrage of bad economic news and concern about your investments distract you from other important personal finance issues such as life insurance. At this point, getting adequate life insurance might actually be a higher priority for you than investing. Strongly consider purchasing coverage if there's anybody who would suffer financially if you died. (There are many benefits to owning a life insurance policy - if you get the right one for you. See Life Insurance: How To Get the Most Out Of Your Policy.)

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