Menu burger Close thin Facebook Twitter Google plus Linked in Reddit Email
Loading
Tap on the profile icon to edit
your financial details.

Senior couple talking to their financial advisorPlanning for the later years of your life is often an emotionally taxing experience. However, it’s often scarier to go into the end of our life without a plan. Of course, a plan requires the right legal documents. A living will and a last will may sound like they cover the same territory, but they’re very different; knowing how will help you pick the one that’s best for you or decide you need both. So, with that in mind, here are the main differences between a living will vs. a last will and why they might be useful to you.

Just as important as arranging an estate plan is having a financial plan to maximize the growth potential of your investments. That’s where a financial advisor can be immensely useful.

What Is a Living Will?

A living will is a document that contains the writer’s medical wishes in the event that she or he cannot communicate those decisions. Instances where a person might need a living will include degenerative illnesses or physical incapacitation. So, a living will sets down the wishes of the writer as instructions for the person’s medical and end-of-life care in such scenarios. It takes effect the moment the writer loses the capacity to communicate.

Doctors will refer to your living will to decide your quality of care and which life-sustaining measures to take. For example, you may put a do-not-resuscitate directive in your living will. Other decisions often include the use of breathing or feeding tubes, palliative care or organ donation. It is possible to change or revoke a living will as long as you are capable of doing so.

What Is a Last Will?

A last will and testament is most commonly referred to as a last will. It is a legal document that delegates the distribution of an individual’s property after death. It may also select a guardian for any minor children.

A pre-selected individual, known as the executor, carries out the will’s instructions. That person manages the distribution of assets to your beneficiaries per your wishes.

There are a few types of wills, and the right one depends on your needs. A simple will is the basic form, and it saves your estate distribution and designates care for any minors. However, this type is typically insufficient if you have a large or complex estate.

Married couples often draft joint wills to simplify their estate since it combines their planning into one mutually agreed upon document. When one spouse dies, the other is the sole beneficiary. After the second spouse passes, they usually hand down the remaining assets to their children.

Wills can also differ based on how they’re created. A holographic will is typically handwritten and does not require any signatures other than the owner or testator. There are also oral wills which the individual verbally dictates, usually because they are too ill to write or type it.

Each state has its own rules regarding a will’s legitimacy, and many don’t even recognize holographic or oral wills, so it’s essential to inform yourself on those regulations.

Living Will vs Last Will: Which One Do You Need?

A will being signedSince a living will and last will function differently, you’re safest when you have both. A living will takes effect while you’re still alive, whereas a last will takes effect after you die. Furthermore, a living will ensures you receive the medical care you desire, and a last will ensures your estate is handled accordingly. So, both cover vulnerable times in you and your family’s life and revolve around different situations.

Even still, certain people are more likely to need one or the other in specific situations. Those going into surgery or who have degenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s, are most recommended to have a living will in place. If you have minor children or a complex estate, you will need a last will.

Living Will vs. Last Will: How to Create Each Will

Each state varies in its requirements to recognize legal documents. So, researching what your state demands is the safest way to ensure your documents are valid in the eyes of the law.

There are online options that are cheap and relatively stress-free to create; however, they often lack nuance. So, if you have a particularly complicated situation or require a lot of detail in either a living will or last will, it might not address all your requirements.

Alternatively, you can speak with an estate planner or other financial professional. While they may not be as affordable as the online route, a professional can guarantee your document is valid in your state and catered to your specific needs.

The Takeaway

An extended familyBoth living wills and last wills are vital documents for a smooth transition into your later years and even your eventual passing. They preserve and enforce your wishes when you no longer can. With both in place, your loved ones won’t have to make snap decisions in high-stress situations or face unnecessary legal fees to figure out what you wanted. Instead, you can lay it all out for them. If you think a living will or a last will are right for you, consider speaking with an estate planner who can help you get the process started. If you already have one in place, it also might be the right time to check to see if should be updated.

Estate Planning Tips

  • Estate planning on your own can prove a challenge. However, a financial advisor can make that process easier for you. Plus, finding one doesn’t have to be stressful either. SmartAsset’s free financial advisor match-up tool gives you up to three local professionals to contact in just five minutes. If you’re looking for experienced help, get started now.
  • While you’re considering professional help, it’s always good to stay informed on your own as well. An estate tax is part of estate planning, so make sure you know whether your state has an estate tax or if you’re subject to the federal version.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/shapecharge, ©iStock.com/Duncan_Andison, ©iStock.com/kupicoo

Ashley Kilroy Ashley Chorpenning is an experienced financial writer currently serving as an investment and insurance expert at SmartAsset. In addition to being a contributing writer at SmartAsset, she writes for solo entrepreneurs as well as for Fortune 500 companies. Ashley is a finance graduate of the University of Cincinnati. When she isn’t helping people understand their finances, you may find Ashley cage diving with great whites or on safari in South Africa.
Was this content helpful?
Thanks for your input!