A living will and last will and testament are two terms that are used seemingly interchangeably, but what is the difference between a living will and a last will and testament? And should you make one or both of these documents part of your estate plan?
What is a Living Will?
A living will is a document that allows you to make critical health care decisions. It communicates to medical professionals whether you want to receive forms of life support such as artificial respiration and intravenous feedings. At the same time, you’re still capable — specifically, before you become incapacitated and cannot make those decisions alone.
You can direct doctors to suspend all life support through a living will or express your preference for other types of medical treatments.
For example, it’s common to state that palliative care for decreasing pain and suffering should be administered, whereas extraordinary measures to prolong life, like cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), shouldn’t be used.
In addition to establishing health care directives, a living will allow you to name someone your agent or health care proxy. This will provide your trusted agent the power to make decisions about your medical care. Some living wills also offer health care agents the ability to order an autopsy or donate their organs upon death.
A living will doesn’t go into effect until you become incapacitated and lasts until you either recover or pass on. Suppose you go into a coma or become mentally disabled. In that case, your treatment preferences are laid out for healthcare professionals to follow.
The most significant benefit of creating a living will is that it helps you and your family avoid costly legal battles over how best to treat you. You will also help reduce any guilty feelings among family members who have conflicting ideas about your end-of-life treatment.
Related: What Is a Living Will?
What is a Last Will?
A last will and testament gives instructions on dealing with your estate after your death.
A will helps survivors distribute your assets and personal property according to your wishes. It can also name a guardian for your children (if they are still minors) and disabled family members. You can also use a last will to allow cash or property donations to be transferred to specific individuals or private interest groups.
Part of creating a last will and testament involves naming an executor of your estate. The executor, usually a close family member or friend, is charged with cataloging the assets of your estate, handling the probate process, and paying any remaining debts or bills. The executor distributes anything left over to your beneficiaries.
Understand what probate is and how the process relates to the last will before deciding if this document suits you.
What is the Difference Between a Will and a Living Will
A last will and testament, or will, declares how you want your matters and property to be handled after you pass on. A living will inform healthcare professionals of your end-of-life medical wishes while you’re still alive.
In contrast to a living will, which expires once a person dies, a last will and testament isn’t legally binding while a person is still alive. The executor can only enforce it upon death.
You may have heard both terms used interchangeably, but what exactly are a living will and a last will and testament? And should you make either of these documents part of your estate plan?
Do You Need a Living Will or a Last Will and Testament?
Ultimately, it’s your personal choice whether to make either a living will, a last will, or both documents. However, most estate planners will advise you to draw up both to ensure your health care providers understand your treatment preferences and your loved ones know what you want your property distributed.
While the benefits of having estate-planning documents in place are priceless, the cost of creating a living will or last will and testament is relatively inexpensive.
Hiring a lawyer to create either a last will or living will typically cost between $100 to $500, depending on your location. For last wills, in particular, these costs increase drastically depending on the size of your estate.
If you’re worried about the price, the most cost-effective way to draft these legal documents is to use our last will and testament template and/or living will template.
Alternatively, you can learn how to write a will in 10 easy-to-follow steps to reduce costs further.
While the topic of your future care may be difficult to broach, the value of legally documenting your end-of-life preferences is clear.