If you have researched estate planning, you may have come across the term, living will. Likely you are familiar with a will, but you may be unsure what a living will is and how it differs from the other type of will.

A will guides asset disbursement

A will allows you to pass on money, property and other assets to heirs. With a will, you can bequeath your home, cars, bank accounts and art collection on whomever you named as a beneficiary. It directs how your assets are divided after you pass on.

A living will guides your medical care

A living will is a completely different kind of document. If you become incapacitated, a living will contains instructions about the type of medical care you want to receive.

It goes into effect while you are still alive, but you must be unable to relay your own wishes. In fact, two doctors must agree that your condition is terminal, or that you will not regain consciousness.

It states what medical measures you want used

In a living will, you stipulate whether you want life-supporting treatments used. These can include dialysis, blood transfusions, feeding tubes, CPR or a respirator. You can also specify when you such measures stopped. A living will can also include a DNR, or a do not resuscitate order. This signals medical professionals that you do not want CPR.

These instructions can be very explicit, and you have the right to change your living will at any time. No other party can change this document.

A living allows you to make decisions

A living will is one part of estate planning documents, but it is an important one. It allows you to make the decisions about your end-of-life care, and it also takes the burden off your family shoulders should the time come.

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