When it comes to estate planning and wills, you have a variety of options for legal documents. The most common of these options is a “last will and testament,” which is also known simply as a “will.” But 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 regular last will and testament.
Both terms describe important legal documents used in estate planning, but their purpose and function differ significantly. In this article, we will review some of the most critical things you need to know about living wills and why having a living will is essential to every adult’s estate plan. And it may be that a living will is even more important than a last will and testament.
A living will, also called an advance healthcare directive, is a legal document that tells your loved ones and doctors how you would want your medical care handled if you become incapacitated and cannot make such decisions yourself, particularly at the end of life. Specifically, a living will outlines the procedures, medications, and treatments you would want and would not want to prolong your life if you cannot make such decisions yourself.
For example, within the terms of your living will, you can articulate certain decisions, such as 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.
Beyond instructions about your medical care, a living will can even describe what type of food you want and who can visit you in the hospital. These are critical considerations for your well-being at a time of greatest need for you. And if you haven’t provided any specific instructions, decisions will be made on your behalf that you likely will not want.
Upon death, a last will and testament ensure 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. And it operates in the event of your incapacity, 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 medical treatment managed while you are still alive. And that’s really important for you and your care!
Medical power of attorney is the part of an advance healthcare directive that allows you to name a person, known as your “agent,” to make healthcare decisions for you if you are incapacitated and unable to make those decisions yourself.
Simply put, medical power of attorney names those who can make medical decisions in the event of your incapacity, while a living will explains how you would want your medical care handled during your incapacity.
A living will is a vital part of every adult’s estate plan, as it can ensure your medical treatment is handled exactly the way you want if you cannot communicate your needs and wishes. Additionally, a living will can prevent your family from undergoing needless trauma and 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 are likely to 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.
While there is a wide selection of living wills, medical power of attorney, and other advance directive documents online, you likely want more guidance and peace of mind than is available through an online service to support you to address such critical decisions adequately. Regarding your medical treatment and end-of-life care, you have unique needs and wishes that cannot be anticipated or adequately addressed by generic documents or without the counseling and guidance we can provide through your decision-making process.
To ensure your directives are tailored to suit your unique situation, work with experienced estate planning professionals like us, your local Personal Family Lawyer® to support you to create and/or review your living will.
Even if you have a professionally prepared and well-thought-out living will, it won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on if nobody knows about it. A living will comes into effect the second you sign it, so you should immediately deliver copies to your agent, alternate agents, primary care physician, and other medical specialists.
Additionally, don’t forget to give those folks new versions whenever you update those documents and have them destroy the old documents. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, delivering the latest copies of your living will and other estate planning documents is a standard part of our Life & Legacy Planning Process. We ensure that everyone who needs your documents always has the latest version.
And since unforeseen illness or injury could strike at any time. Don’t wait to plan your will. Contact us to get this critical document in place.