Here’s a shocker: Almost 70 % of single parents with children living at home don’t carry life insurance, according to research from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and Genworth Financial.

I’m not one to echo insurance companies and agents when they foist expensive and unnecessary products on consumers, but isn’t this the exact population that most needs insurance? And isn’t plain-vanilla term life insurance just about as cheap as it’s ever been?

“We did expect to see pockets that were uninsured, but I think what came back to us was shocking,” says Greg Bucko of Genworth, which sponsored the study. He and Gregory Fairchild, the associate professor who did the survey, surmise that people aren’t buying life insurance because they think life insurance is too expensive, or they fear it is too complicated to buy. “Many single parents are simply too busy — or even too scared — to properly evaluate their life insurance needs,” says Fairchild.

The survey found that 79% of unmarried men who don’t own homes, earn less than $250,000 and have children in the household are not insured. Single mothers are less likely to be uninsured than men, but still more likely to have no insurance than to be covered. The researchers said that these low levels of uninsurance carried through most income levels. The more children there were in the household, the less likely the parent was to carry life insurance.

Perhaps single parents are holding off on the insurance buy because they aren’t supporting their children; maybe there’s child support coming from another parent who doesn’t live with them. Or maybe they expect that Social Security survivor benefits will tide their kids over. Neither of those are proper solutions. Even a parent who earns no money would leave a financial hole were she to die without planning for where her kids would sleep at night and who would put dinner on the table for them. And those Social Security survivor benefits for kids, equal to 75% of the parent’s benefit, probably would not fill all of those gaps.

Maybe I’m prejudiced, but I’m personally close to two different young adults who were young children when their custodial divorced mothers died. In both cases, the mothers left coverage that enabled their children to continue solid middle class lives, staying in comfortable homes and going on to college and careers.

Here’s how to make sure you take care of your kids if the unthinkable should happen to you.
Get info.

If you’re depending upon a noncustodial parent to provide support for the kids, make sure that person is carrying adequate insurance, too. Find out the details of the policy, says Bucko. How much coverage is there? Where is it held? Are your children the beneficiaries?

Figure out how much you need for yourself.

A very rough rule of thumb continues to be 6 to 10% of your salary. But you could add more to cover college for your kids, the cost of your funeral and even the payoff of your mortgage. It is cheaper to roll those costs into one life insurance policy than it is to buy separate and specialized policies for each one.

Buy a term policy.

That is the simplest and cheapest way to get coverage; you buy a benefit for an annual premium that is guaranteed for a certain term (30 years is a good number now, with kids coming back after college and still needing support). There’s no cash built up in the policy, but costs are quite low. Comparison shop for the best rates at sites like Intelliquote.com, WholesaleInsurance.net, and Term4Sale. Get quotes from companies that sell direct to customers and may not be listed on those sites. A few to check are Geico, USAA and Progressive.

Don’t wait for prices to fall; they probably won’t.

In 1997, a 40-year-old man seeking $500,000 in coverage for 20 years could buy a policy for about $560 a year, according to Term4Sale. By 2008, the same policy’s annual premium had fallen to about $360, and it’s been holding close to that level ever since. Their next move could be up, not down, suggests Robert Barney, president of Compulife, the firm which runs Term4Sale.

Quit smoking, or hurry up and buy.

Prices for term insurance have risen for smokers, even while they’ve declined and remained flat for nonsmokers, says Barney. That same policy would cost a smoker about $1,400 a year, he said.

Pass it around.

Keep information about your policy with the rest of your estate documents, and let the people who will be in charge of your estate and your kids know how to find it. If you want to do a little bit of bragging about your new policy, go ahead. Covering your kids’ futures with a good policy on your life is just one more way to be a good parent. As a matter of fact, you could treat yourselves to pizza for dinner on premium-sending nights. You deserve it.