Wills and living wills serve as key parts of almost every estate plan, but they are not as similar as their names might imply. Every good estate plan will include a variety of tools, each of which is designed to protect you in various ways. Both wills and living wills have specific purposes, and each is an essential part of a comprehensive plan. Even though their names make the documents sound like they are similar, they are not. To help explain the difference between wills and living wills, today we are going to take a look at what they do, how they work, and why they are important.
A will, more formally known as a last will and testament, is probably the most widely known estate planning document. Through a properly drafted will you can make inheritance choices, choose a guardian for any young children you might have under your care, as well as make other important decisions that will take effect after you die.
Every state has slightly different rules when it comes to crafting a last will and testament, but they all have similar requirements. To make a will you have to make a document in writing, sign it, and have that document signed by two adult witnesses. You have to be a mentally competent adult when you craft your will, but as long as you meet all the requirements, a court will accept your document as the expression of your last wishes.
Whereas a last will becomes operative upon your death, a living will, as its name implies, is a will that takes effect while you are still alive and addresses issues you may confront during your lifetime. Living wills have nothing to do with your property. Instead your living will outlines the medical choices you want made if you lose your ability to communicate during your lifetime. When people become incapacitated, their living wills serve as their medical voice. These documents communicate the health care and end of life wishes of the incapacitated to any health care workers who might be treating that person.
Like a last will, living wills have to be made in compliance with specific state laws. Unlike last wills, living wills only apply before you die, and do not have to be submitted to a court after your death.
Wills and Living Wills
Last wills and living wills both play key roles in any estate plan, but it’s important to understand that they are not substitutes for one another. You cannot, for example, use your living will to make inheritance choices, nor can you use your last will and testament to make medical decisions. If you want to afford yourself all possible protections offered to you under a comprehensive estate plan, your plan will need to include both of these key documents.