One question our firm answers often is about living wills and last wills. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably by mistake. While both documents should be part of your estate planning package, they play very different roles. Our attorneys explain the difference and break it down for you in this article.
What Is a Living Will?
A living will is a document that everyone should have, regardless of their financial status, because it allows you to record your wishes for how you would prefer to be treated in case you become temporarily or permanently incapacitated and unable to make decisions and speak for yourself. It can include your preferences for medical treatment, such as whether you would like to receive CPR or not and your views on artificial life support, organ donation, and other important issues.
For example, you can determine that you would prefer not to be placed on long-term life support machines, if your medical prognosis is unlikely to improve (as in an irreversible brain injury, for instance). You may also record on your living will the names of doctors and hospitals that you would want to be treated by and at.
Last, but not least, you can name a person to become your agent and give this person authority to make medical decisions on your behalf. This person has the duty of making sure the wishes you outlined in your living will are respected and can continue to make decisions until you recover and can speak for yourself or until you pass away.
What Is a Last Will?
Unlike a living will, a last will is a document that only kicks into action after you pass away. It addresses matters specific to your estate and how you wish your assets to be divided. You can name your beneficiaries and determine who gets what in terms of estate assets. It can also have provisions addressing who should care for your children who may be minors. You can also name an executor that will be in charge of taking your estate through probate, gathering assets, notifying beneficiaries, paying off any debts and taxes, and distributing assets among heirs before closing out the estate.
Why Should I Have Both a Living Will and a Last Will?
Most of us don’t think we need a living will, but even if you are young and in good health, it is best to have a document your loved ones can refer to if they ever need to make medical decisions on your behalf. A living will can be put into action temporarily if you were to suffer loss of consciousness due to unforeseen events, such as a car crash. It empowers your loved ones to make confident decisions on your behalf, knowing that they are simply respecting your wishes, instead of risking making a choice that may go against what you wanted.
A living will focuses on your wishes for care, but it does not address your estate matters should the worst happen. This is when a last will is necessary. In the same manner that you don’t want to leave your important medical decisions up to your loved ones, you should not leave critical estate and asset division decisions to a probate court.
If having your wishes respected and recording your preferences is important for you and your loved ones, we recommend getting both a living will and a last will drafted as soon as possible. Our estate planning law firm can help you get started. Give Oren Ross & Associates a call at (404) 436-1752 today.