Have you ever heard the terms “living will” and “final will” and wondered what the distinction is, exactly? Are you thinking about estate planning and the outline of your own end-of-life plans? Both types of documents help you and your loved ones feel secure knowing that your wishes will be adhered to, but how can they accomplish that?
What Is A Living Will?
A living will is also called an Advanced Health Care Directive. Its purpose is to make sure that, in the event that you cannot articulate your own healthcare preferences, they will still be honored. It allows you to appoint a family member or friend as your medical power of attorney. This person should know you well and be willing to communicate with physicians and other healthcare providers on your behalf. If you have specific preferences and instructions regarding treatments you would or would not want, your living will can lay these out.
You remain in control over your medical decisions even if you have created a living will. An Advanced Health Care Directive would only come into effect if you are deemed medically incapacitated. Once it is in force, any healthcare provider must follow what you have laid out in your living will and listen to your appointed agent. However, it is essential that your family, your doctors, and especially your agent all have access to your living will in the case of an emergency. The state of California also maintains a registry of Advance Health Care Directives so that every relevant party can access and follow your wishes.
What Is A Final Will?
A final will is what you probably imagine upon hearing the term: a last will and testament. It is an estate planning tool that allows you to set forth who shall inherit which parts of your estate, amending the automatic apportionment based on state law. If you do not have a will in California, your spouse receives all of your joint property and part of your separate property, with the remainder divided among your children. If you do not have a spouse or children, your estate is apportioned to your relatives, or, if none are found, it is given to the State of California.
You may choose to use a final will along with a trust, which can allow your assets to avoid the probate court supervision process altogether. However, a final will is critical regardless of your financial situation and it is an important part of your estate plan. It gives you the opportunity to name a guardian for any of your children who are minors and to appoint an executor of your estate. This person is responsible for seeing that the wishes, as you’ve laid out, are carried out properly and your finances are in order. You will also want to keep it up to date. Revisions may be in order after major life changes such as marriage, the birth of a child, divorce, or even a new relationship if you wish for your unmarried partner to receive any of your estate, which they are not automatically entitled to under California law.
Both types of wills give you and your family peace of mind knowing that no matter what, you have a well-thought-out plan in place. For a more in-depth look at wills and estate planning, have a look here. If you are located in or around Santa Clara, contact Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri to set up a virtual consultation with one of our estate planning attorneys.