When it comes to estate planning documents, there are a variety of options. The most common of these options is a “last will and testament,” also known simply as a “will.” You may have also heard people talk about a “living will” and wonder what that is and whether you need a living will in addition to a last will and testament.
Both terms describe an important legal document that is one of several that make up a thorough estate plan, but their purpose and function differ significantly. In this article, we will review living wills and why having a living will is essential to every adult’s estate plan.
What Is A Living Will?
A living will is a component of your advance healthcare directives. This document announces to doctors how you want your end-of-life care to be handled if you are incapacitated and cannot communicate those decisions yourself. It outlines the procedures, medications, and treatments you would want and would not want to prolong your life and names a loved one to voice you decisions so doctors will carry out your intentions.
Your living will can articulate decisions about if and when you would want life support removed should you ever require it and whether you would want hydration and nutrition supplied to prolong your life. A living will can even specifically describe what type of food you want (vegan?) and who can visit you in the hospital.
If you haven’t provided specific instructions, your next of kin or your named agent can make healthcare decisions on your behalf. That would not just risk imposition of choices you would not want, but would also burden your loved ones to guess or feel responsible or carry guilt.
Living Will vs. Last Will And Testament
Upon death, a last will and testament ensures your assets are distributed as you choose. Note that your last will only deals with your assets and only operates upon your death. In contrast, a living will is about you, not your assets. It operates during your lifetime when you are incapacitated, not your death.
In other words, a last will tells others what you want to happen to your wealth and property after you die, while a living will tells others how you want your end-of-life medical treatment managed while you are still alive if you are unable to communicate or make decisions.
Living Will vs. Health Care Power of Attorney
A health care power of attorney is another advance healthcare directive that allows your named agent to make every day health care decisions for you if you can’t. Your agent is usually a person who will likely be nearby and knows you well enough to make decisions about things like treatments, surgeries and medications if you are unconscious.
A health care power of attorney names those who can make your medical decisions in the event you cannot while a living will expresses your end-of-life decision so that your loved ones do not have to make decisions, they just carry out the decisions you already made.
Why Having A Living Will Is So Important
A living will is a vital part of every adult’s estate plan, as it can ensure your end-stage medical treatment is
handled exactly the way you want if you cannot communicate your needs and wishes. It can also prevent your family from undergoing needless trauma in making end-of-life decisions sand conflict during an already trying time.
Without a living will, your family would have to guess what treatments you might want, and your loved ones could experience stress and guilt over the decisions they make on your behalf. In worst cases, your family members could even end up battling one another in court over who should manage your medical care and how.
Should You Rely On A Living Will Created Online?
While there is a wide selection of living wills, medical powers of attorney, and other advance directive documents online, you may want guidance and support not available through an online service to support you in such critical decision-making.
How We Can Help
A living will comes into effect the second you sign it, so you should deliver copies to your primary care physician and other medical specialists, and let your agents know their role and where to find the documents (or send them copies). Any time you decide to update those documents, your agents should also know so they can destroy the old documents.
Unforeseen illness or injury could strike at any time, so don’t wait to plan. Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you.
This article is a service of Jennifer Winegardner of Rayboun Winegardner, PLLC. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session.
The content is sourced from Personal Family Lawyer® for use by Personal Family Lawyer firms, a source believed to be providing accurate information. This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal, or investment advice. If you are seeking legal advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material.