These are all terms we hear kicked around. We know that as responsible adults we should have these things. But, it can feel like a lot of jargon that is hard to decipher. What’s the difference between them anyway? And why not just put it off? The truth is, such documents are rarely urgent (until they are urgent!) and they are only needed when something awful happens. The result is that we often avoid tackling the whole mess.
But, it’s actually not a mess. It’s pretty straightforward if you understand the basics. Let’s start by defining a few terms. When you’re planning for what happens to your estate, it’s important to know the difference between the different legal documents that are available to you, so you can ensure everything goes according to your plan.
How is a living will different from your last will and testament? A last will specifies your last wishes and appoints someone to carry them out. It also transfers your assets to beneficiaries after your death. Finally, it names guardians for your minor children (if you have them).
A last will does not give directives about your health care or life support. That is where a living will comes into play. A living will, also known as an advance directive or a health care directive, spells out your decisions about life support and organ donation in advance. It also names someone to manage your healthcare. To avoid any conflict of interest, this person can be different than your power of attorney, who is named in another document to handle your financial and legal affairs.
A living will is a binding document to specify your medical wishes if you can’t communicate because of illness or injury. It addresses such questions as to whether you want life extending treatment while terminally ill or in a permanent coma.
Why have a living will? Two major reasons come to mind:
- A living will spares your family the anguish of making life-support decisions without your input. It helps to avoid major arguments between family members at a vulnerable time.
- A living will also gives you control of your healthcare by ensuring that your doctor understands your end-of-life wishes and treats you accordingly.
In order to proceed with a living will, we recommend that you meet with an attorney who can walk you through the important legal questions at hand. She can help you with the proper documentation for your state and help you think through potential scenarios that you might want to discuss with your physician and loved ones. There are numerous medical scenarios and procedures you or your loved ones could face. Through a living will, you can be clear about the specific medical treatments you do or do not wish to receive.
Many people think a living will is not something they need unless they reach senior citizen age. However, this could not be further from the truth. Life is unpredictable and often uncontrollable, giving every enough reason for adults of any age to invest in a living will in order to protect themselves when bad fortune arises.