You may have been told before that you need a will. While it is true that a will is a key part of your estate planning documents, it is important to know the difference between a living will and a last will. Each of these kinds of wills serve a different purpose and can do different things for you, but they are both of equal importance.

What is a Living Will?

A living will contains instructions related to what kind of medical care you want to receive in case you become incapacitated, a way to speak for yourself and make decisions. For example, if you have been seriously injured in a car accident and are unconscious, your living will has important instructions for the doctors caring for you as well as for your family. Do you want to receive CPR? Do you wish to be placed on life support? Which family member is authorized to speak on your behalf and make health care decisions for you? All of this information is outlined in your living will.

What is a Last Will?

While a living will contains your personal wishes for health care treatment, a last will addresses your preferences for what should happen to your assets when you pass away. Your last will includes a list of your assets, such as real estate property, bank accounts, investments, and any other assets, as well as a list of the beneficiaries that will be receiving them, and a determination of how everything should be split up among your heirs.

When you die, your estate may go through probate and your will becomes part of the probate process. If you die without a will, a court will divide your assets according to your state’s internal laws. A last will, sometimes referred to as a last will and testament, also appoints an executor for your estate. An executor will serve as a personal, and sometimes legal, representative of the estate. Your last will can also appoint a guardian for any of your children who are minors.

Should I Get a Living Will or a Last Will?

Because both documents serve different functions, it is recommended that you consider getting both a last will and a living will. They work hand-in-hand to communicate your wishes for the medical care you want to receive while you are still alive and also your wishes for how your assets should be handled after you pass away. In addition, you may also want to consider adding other important documents, such as a durable healthcare power of attorney. A living will may not contain enough information when it comes to specific medical treatment decisions; thus a durable power of attorney document allows a proxy (the person you appointed as responsible for making health care decisions on your behalf while you are incapacitated) to address medical treatment decisions you may not have included in your living will. If you have questions about which documents are right for you or need help to get started with your living will or last will, contact the Clarksville estate planning attorneys at Crow Estate Planning and Probate, PLC to learn more about your options to give you and your family peace of mind.