What is the Difference Between a Will and a Living Will?

April 4, 2018 by Cheryl Proska in For Individuals, For Professionals, Guardianship

There are two primary types of wills, and while they sound similar, they are very different.

They are:

  • A last will and testament (commonly referred to simply as a “will”).
  • A living will (also referred to as an “advance directive).

It can be very easy to confuse these two legal documents if you’re not completely sure what each one does, the benefits of each and when they take effect.

What they do

A last will and testament lays out the plan for how your assets and estate will be divided after death. Having one ensures your assets and estate will be disbursed how you’d like and to whom you’d like.

Without a last will and testament, typically your assets will be divided according to state law, and it may not be the way you’d prefer them to be distributed.

A last will and testament can also stipulate who you want to take over guardianship of your dependent children (should you still have any). This typically makes having a last will and testament very important for parents of young children. If you do not make this designation, a court will decide who has legal custody of your dependents.

A living will, on the other hand, outlines the medical care you’ll receive should you become unable to communicate your preferences. A living well can provide step-by-step instructions for how you’re to be cared for. In other words, it communicates your wishes for your health care.

A living well can provide your family and doctors with specific instructions on how you’re to be treated should you become incapacitated. It can explain the kind of care you want and the kind of care you do not wish to receive.

For example, a living will can tell doctors whether you want to be kept alive by artificial means if there’s no hope you’ll regain conciseness following an accident or medical event.

The benefits of each

There are several reasons to create a last will and testament, such as it:

  • Ensures your estate is divided according to your wishes.
  • Makes it easier, and less costly, for your family/friends to sort out your estate.
  • Nominates guardians for children.
  • Helps prevent family/friends from fighting over who gets what.

Along those same lines, there are also several benefits to creating a living will, such as it:

  • Relays your wishes for medical care should you be unable to communicate those wishes yourself.
  • Eases the stress and decision-making process for your family.
  • Ensures your care is carried out in accordance with your religious beliefs/wishes.

When they take effect

This is another major difference between the two documents.

A last will and testament takes effect at the time of your death.

Meanwhile, a living will takes effect while you are alive but have lost the ability to make decisions for yourself. In other words, it comes into play when you’re incapacitated.

If you’re looking for help getting the process of creating a will started, an Intervention Associates Professional Care Manager can help.

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