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Last Will vs. Living Will: What’s the Difference?

When you first begin your estate planning journey, chances are good you will hear a lot of different terms that may confuse you. Take “last wills” and “living wills,” for example. Are they the same thing? Or do you need both? Let’s take a closer look at the differences between a last will vs. a living will in estate planning. 

What is a living (live) will? 

A live will, also called a living will, is a legal document that details your medical wishes. You may need it if you ever become seriously ill and are unable to make medical decisions on your own. Your living will can also designate a medical power of attorney who can make health care related decisions on your behalf.

You might need a living will if: 

  • You suffer a severe accident that leaves you comatose
  • An illness forces you to be on life support (such as breathing and feeding tubes)
  • You have advanced Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia and you are unable to make important decisions regarding your healthcare

Within the living will, you can include specific instructions about the types of medical treatments you want a doctor to provide if you become incapacitated. This includes: 

  • What a doctor should do if you can no longer breathe on your own
  • Whether you want medical professionals to provide long-term medical care, such as dialysis, blood transfusions, and/or surgery
  • Any do not resuscitate (DNR) orders  

What is a last will and testament? 

While a living will takes effect while you are still alive, a last will—also known as a last will and testament—applies after you have passed away. A last will is a legal document outlining how you want your possessions distributed after you pass on. 

The legal term for the people designated to receive your property is beneficiaries. When writing your last will and testament, you will name an executor. Their job will be to read your will after you pass, and make sure your beneficiaries receive exactly what you want them to.

Your last will and testament can be used to administer any item you own, no matter how big or small, including: 

  • Real estate property
  • Cars, trucks, boats, and other vehicles
  • Bank accounts
  • Jewelry and antiques
  • Sentimental and/or family history items

Your last will and testament can also designate which of your possessions you want to donate to charity. And if you have children or pets, you can name guardians for them in your last will as well. 

Understanding Will Differences in Estate Planning

As we assist people with building their estate plans, we are often asked to explain the differences between a living will vs. a last will and testament. As the different role each type of will plays becomes clearer, most people realize they need both. Having a living will and a last will ensures that your medical wishes are met while you are alive, and that your final wishes are followed after you pass on. 

If you have further questions regarding wills, the advisors at Phelps LaClair are here to help! Call us today at 480-892-2488 to schedule an appointment at one of our many convenient Arizona locations. 

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

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