Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Estate Planning FAQ: "What is the difference between a Living Will and just a Will?"

In this series of frequently asked questions on estate planning, we take this question:  What is the difference between a Living Will and just a Will?”

This question is asked often since these two things sound so much alike. However, they are completely different and unrelated. Both are part of every client's estate plan.

Lifetime Documents: The Living Will.

A lifetime document is one which has validity during someone's life. A Living Will is a lifetime document. It is valid only while the maker is alive.

A Living Will addresses medical treatment near the end of life, such as a coma or similar condition. In my State of Colorado, the Living Will can either be simple and address only life support, artificial feeding and organ donation. Or, the Living Will can as extensive as you want and address many different medical treatment questions and living arrangements. I will address which type is better in a later article.

Another example of a lifetime document is a Power of Attorney. Previous articles discuss Powers of Attorney.

Testamentary Documents: The Last Will.

A Will, or “just a Will” as our questioner called it, is a testamentary document. A testamentary document is one which become valid upon the death of the maker. If you have a Will, it is not valid during your life. It's validity is created by your death. Previous articles here have covered the many different types of Wills.

So, the answer to our question is this: a Living Will is for your lifetime and expresses your wishes about medical treatment if you are unconscious or comatose. A Will is a death-time document and deals with the disposition of property, your children and similar issues. Detailed descriptions of these two documents appear in earlier articles here on this site and I encourage you to read those.

Let me know if you think this article answered our FAQ. Also, if you have comments or questions, please feel free to share them here. Thank you for your interest in estate planning.

Bernie Greenberg


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