Differences Between a Living Will and a Last Will and Testament

There is no question that estate planning terminology can be confusing, and this is especially true when the same word is used to describe different concepts. Under the American Bar Association definition, a will is a legal document that distributes a person’s property at death. A living will is a document that states an individual’s intentions regarding life-sustaining treatment for end-of-life care. However, these descriptions do not go into sufficient detail when you are considering them as part of your estate plan. 

To better understand how a living will and last will and testament function, it is essential to retain skilled legal representation. Your estate planning lawyer can explain how these documents can help you achieve your objectives as well as offer assistance with preparing the paperwork. A comparison of the differences between a living will and a last will and testament is also informative. 

Basics About a Living Will 

In explaining how a living will works, the most important distinction separating it from a last will and testament becomes obvious. A living will focuses on incapacity, in which a person is alive but unable to make decisions regarding health care. In some states, the document is called an advance directive or power of attorney for health care. 

Through your living will, you can accomplish the following: 

  • State your intentions regarding life-sustaining care, such as nutrition and hydration. 
  • Inform loved ones of your wishes for pain management. 
  • Express your objectives regarding resuscitation, dialysis, or a ventilator. 

If you do not have a living will, decisions regarding your medical treatment and end-of-life care fall to family members. These individuals might not have guidance on your intentions, so they may make decisions that do not align with your goals. 

How a Last Will and Testament Functions 

While a living will is for incapacity, a last will and testament becomes effective upon the testator’s death. It includes instructions on how the decedent’s assets are to be distributed to beneficiaries. You can include a general bequest that distributes your estate to designated beneficiaries, but you may also provide specific bequests of items to certain people. Other important functions of a last will and testament are: 

  • Naming your executor, i.e., the person who will manage your estate and carry out the instructions in your will; 
  • Creating a testamentary trust if you desire some assets to be managed by a trustee; and, 
  • Establishing a special needs trust for a disabled loved one, which allows you to provide financial support without disqualifying the individual from public assistance. 

Learn More by Consulting with a Knowledgeable Estate Planning Attorney 

It is helpful to understand the basics regarding living wills and a last will and testament, but you can see that legal help is critical. Plus, these are just two documents to consider for a well-rounded estate plan. There are additional components that address both incapacity and your legacy. For more information, please contact Francois Williams Legal. We can set up a consultation to discuss your circumstances and how to plan for your future.

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