Difference between a last will and testament and a living will

On Behalf of | Dec 15, 2023 | Estate Planning |

A last will and testament and a living will are two different legal documents that serve different purposes. Both are essential to estate planning, outlining what must happen to aspects surrounding your property and health care should unforeseen circumstances arise.

Understanding these documents is essential, as you might need both.

Defining a last will and testament

A will is a traditional document specifying the distribution of your property upon your death. It also allows for the appointment of a guardian for your minor children, an executor to manage your estate and a trustee for any trusts you establish. A will becomes effective only upon your death and you can modify or revoke it anytime before then.

Examining the living will

Contrarily, a living will or a health care directive clarifies your choices for medical intervention if you become incapable of communicating them yourself, often due to severe health conditions. This document allows you to detail your preferences for treatments such as mechanical ventilation, dialysis, pain management and palliative care.

How both differ from each other

While it’s easy to confuse a will and a living will, they serve different purposes and requirements. Key points for a will are:

On the other hand, a living will should be written, signed by you and authenticated by two witnesses or a notary public. It only becomes active when you cannot make healthcare decisions for yourself. So, it’s crucial that you provide this document to your health care providers and designated health care agent when the time comes.

You might need both

Having both a will and a living will helps ensure your wishes are carried out and supports the welfare of your family members. A will helps avoid intestacy, where the state decides how to distribute your property and who takes care of your children if you die without a will. Conversely, a living will can prevent unwanted medical interventions and lessen the burden on other people if you become incapacitated. Together, these documents provide more control and reassurance as you plan for the inevitable.


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