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

If you looked into estate planning, as everyone should, you may have become quickly confused with the legal rhetoric of it all. Will, living will, trusts, health care surrogate, advance directives—it can all start blending. Today, we will help unravel some of these critical legal tools that play a central role in estate planning. In particular, we will discuss what distinguishes a will from a living will. While both serve important functions in an estate plan, the two are very different. In fact, besides having similar-sounding names and both being part of a comprehensive estate plan, there are more differences than similarities between a will and a living will.

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

You may have heard the terms “will” and “living will” interchangeably. It is no wonder there is so much confusion surrounding these two legal tools if only because their names are so similar. In reality, however, a living will and a will are completely different legal documents and serve very different purposes.

A living will guides medical professionals, selecting health care agents, and loved ones regarding a person’s end of life care preferences. More specifically, a living will can outline your instructions regarding the preferred end of life medical care you wish to receive should you fall terminally ill and are incapacitated and, therefore, unable to express your health care preferences for yourself. Your living will can be general or as specific as you would like. Obviously, more specific is the preferred way as it will provide more guidance on specific treatment preferences. Furthermore, many people also establish a health care surrogate, a person appointed as an agent for an incapacitated person who is empowered to make health care decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person, so that he or she has a trusted individual who will make health care decisions that may not be addressed in the living will.

A will addresses your estate and how your affairs should be handled after you pass away. It is a legal document that outlines instructions on how your assets should be distributed upon your death. If you should die without a valid will in place, you are deemed to have died intestate. As such, your assets will pass according to the state’s intestate laws. This means that your assets will be distributed according to a person’s relationship to you and not necessarily how you would have wanted your assets distributed. Your will plays a central role in probate administration. You can also select who will be the personal representative of your estate by naming this person in your will. Furthermore, you can also name guardians for any of your minor children

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For more assistance untangling the legal tools utilized in estate planning, we are here to help. Contact Unique Estate Law today.