When you begin estate planning, you may hear terms or phrases that sound much alike. You may assume similar-sounding terms are alternate ways of saying the same thing, but there are usually critical differences to understand.
For example, some believe the phrase, living will, is another way of referring to a final will. However, these two critical estate planning documents are nothing alike.
What is a will?
Under Virginia law, a final will is a legal document declaring a person’s wishes regarding the disposal of their property when they die. Your will allows you to state how your assets should be distributed among your family and other beneficiaries.
A will can only go into effect after the willmaker passes away.
What is a living will?
A type of advance directive that allows you to state and control your medical care if you become incapacitated and cannot communicate your decisions. A living will can cover a wide range of medical topics, such as whether (or not) you want to:
- Receive equipment-provided life support
- Receive artificial nutrition and hydration
- Receive life-prolonging treatments
- Donate your organs
A living will gives you much control over your healthcare when you cannot speak for yourself, but it might not be enough. Many who create a living will also add a power of attorney for healthcare to their estate plans.
The healthcare power of attorney allows you to designate a trusted individual to voice your medical decisions if incapacitated. The two documents work together to ensure medical providers follow your healthcare wishes.
Do you need both?
Yes, because one does not replace the other. You need a regular will to settle your assets and affairs and a living will and/or healthcare power of attorney to protect your medical preferences.