Estate Planning Guide

Living Will vs. Last Will & Testament

Living Will vs. Last Will & Testament

Do you have a will? Do you have a living will?

You’ve probably been asked one or both of those questions in recent years, especially before medical procedures. The names may sound similar, but there are some big differences between a living will vs. will. Below, we’ll go through both a will and living will to help you know the advantages of both.

Stephanie Faris

Published March 9th, 2022

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • A living will and a last will and testament are important documents, although they serve separate purposes.
  • With a living will you state your medical wishes in case you’re someday unable to make decisions for yourself.
  • A last will outlines, in detail, how you want your estate handled after your death, including any property you own.

Do you have a will? Do you have a living will?

You’ve probably been asked one or both of those questions in recent years, especially before medical procedures. The names may sound similar, but there are some big differences between a living will vs. will. Below, we’ll go through both a will and living will to help you know the advantages of both.

What Is a Living Will?

There’s an easy way to remember the difference in a living will vs. a last will and testament. While a last will and testament directs how your assets are handled after your death, a living will provides instruction on how your care should be handled while you’re still alive.

A living will, also known as an advance directive, puts in writing how you want your care handled if you’re in an end-of-life situation. This directive will be used if you, for instance, are on life support and can’t communicate your wishes to medical providers. You can use services like LegalZoom Living Will to ensure you’re covered in the event of a medical emergency.

What Is a Last Will and Testament?

A will can be more formally referred to as a last will and testament. You’ll never hear a living will called a “living will and testament,” so that’s one easy way to keep them apart. A last will and testament is a document that outlines, typically in great detail, what you want to happen after your death. Who will take ownership of your house, your vehicles, and the money in your various accounts?

As you’re asking what is a will and testament, pay close attention to the fact that it’s a legal document. One similarity between a last will and testament vs a living will is that they both need to be signed and witnessed, but laws can be a bit stricter for your last will. Your will is more likely to be contested in court, so it’s important to make sure you have it signed in accordance with local laws.

How Does a Last Will Work?

Death can come unexpectedly. A will serves as a living testament to your wishes after your death. You can pay an attorney to draw a will up for you, use a service like LegalZoom Last Will and Testament, or draw up a will on your own using an online template. The important part of creating a will is that it’s signed. Services like LegalZoom com will give you the document, but you’ll still need to make sure at least two witnesses sign it in accordance with your local laws to make it legal.

After your will has been signed, you’ll need to make sure your loved ones can find it. According to the U.S. Will Registry, nearly 67 percent of wills can’t be found. Make sure your loved ones can track your will down after your death.

Living Will vs Last Will: Main Differences

The main difference between a living will and last will is when it’s used. A living will is provided to medical professionals caring for you in an end-of-life situation. A last will is used to distribute your assets after your death.

In studying how does a living will work, you’ll notice another major difference. While both types of wills need someone to oversee them, your living will designates a power of attorney, while your last will names an executor. In both cases, the person you name will be in charge of ensuring your wishes are carried out, so it’s a very important decision.

Last Will vs. Living Will: Do You Need Both?

Now that we’ve defined what is a living will vs. a will, you might wonder if a legal last will and testament is all you need. In reality, you need both. A last will and testament can protect your survivors by leaving your money and property to them after you’re gone.

But a living will also protects your loved ones. If, someday, you’re in ill health and can’t make decisions for yourself, that duty will fall to your spouse, children, or parents. By having a living will, those family members can present your directives to your medical providers and have all those questions answered. This not only ensures your wishes are carried out, but it takes the burden off your loved ones.

Final Thoughts

A last will and testament and a living will are equally important, although they’re used at different times. Developing both documents is an important part of estate planning. No matter where you are in your life, a certified financial planner can help you ensure you have all your finances in place before preparing your estate planning documents.

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Author

Stephanie Faris

Stephanie Faris has written about finance for entrepreneurs and marketing firms since 2013. She spent nearly a year as a writer for a credit card processing service and has written about finance for numerous marketing firms and entrepreneurs. Her work has appeared on Money Under 30, The Motley Fool, MoneyGeek, E-commerce Insiders, and GoBankingRates.

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