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Estate planning: The difference between wills and living wills

On Behalf of | Mar 15, 2024 | Guardianship

Estate planning can introduce confusing terminology you might not completely understand. Phrases or words may sound alike and seem interchangeable, but crucial distinctions exist.

For instance, a living will is not just another term for a traditional will – it serves an entirely different purpose. Knowing the difference between them allows you to create a well-rounded estate plan.

Understanding traditional wills

A will is a document that should clearly explain your wishes regarding property distribution after your death. It specifies how you want your assets divided among your beneficiaries but only takes effect after you pass away.

Living wills explained

A living will is a type of advance directive allowing you to direct your medical care if you ever become incapacitated and unable to communicate. It can cover various medical scenarios during your lifetime, such as your preferences regarding:

  • Life-prolonging treatments. Allowing medical interventions to extend life if your body no longer functions without assistance
  • Artificial hydration and nutrition. Receiving fluids and nutrients through a tube if you cannot eat or drink for yourself
  • Life support through medical equipment. Using machines (ventilators, etc.) to maintain life if your body and organs begin failing
  • Organ and body donation. Giving healthy organs or tissues after death to help save the lives of others or for medical research.

Knowing you have control over your healthcare, even in the face of incapacity, can offer incredible peace of mind during your lifetime.

Which one do you need?

Since a will and a living will serve separate purposes, having both can yield a comprehensive estate plan. A legal representative familiar with Virginia estate laws can help to ensure these and your other estate documents work seamlessly together.