Difference between a living will and a last will and testament

If you execute an estate plan or help your aging parent to do so, you’ll undoubtedly learn about several types of documents that you may or may not choose to incorporate into a specific plan. Many people in Illinois and elsewhere confuse certain estate planning issues, such as living wills versus a last will and testament.

These are two separate and distinct documents. You may have both or neither in an estate plan. However, most people at least have one or the other, and many have both. Understanding how these two documents differ from each other and knowing how to use each or both to fit your estate planning goals is helpful to protect your interests, as well as to make sure that your desires carry out with regard to end-of-life health decisions.

A living will is a document that is used while you’re still alive

The main difference between a living will and a last will and testament is that a living will activates while you’re still living. A last will and testament, however, is most relevant after you die. If you have a living will in place, it can help a medical team know what to do or not do if you are in an accident or become ill and incapacitated and can no longer speak for yourself.

In a living will, you can specify whether you would want to be placed on a ventilator should the need arise. You might also write out instructions as to whether you want a feeding tube, blood transfusion or other extraordinary measures taken if your life is at risk. If you incorporate a DNR order into your living will, it means that you do not want to be resuscitated if your heart stops beating.

You might also designate a specific person to have a medical power of attorney, which means that he or she would have the authority to make decisions regarding your health care on your behalf.

A last will and testament determines how your assets should be distributed

If you die without a last will and testament, your estate becomes intestate. In such cases, the state determines what happens to your assets. If you sign a last will and testament while you are of sound mind, you may choose each person or organization whom you want to receive a portion or all of your estate.

Your assets might include real estate, money, vehicles or personal items, and more. As long as you are of sound mind at the time, you may update your last will and testament to make changes, additions or deletions. You can also name guardians in your last will and testament to care for any of your children who are minors at the time of your death.

Signing both documents is typically a best-case scenario

As mentioned earlier, you are not obligated to sign specific estate planning documents, such as a living will or last will and testament. However, it is helpful to have both documents in place, especially because they each serve a unique and specific purpose.

You’re never too young or too old to execute an estate plan, as long as you’re of sound mind and documents are signed in adherence to state laws that govern the estate planning process.


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The Law Office of William C. Wombacher

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Peoria, IL 61602
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