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Is There a Difference Between a Living Will and a Will?

Generally, when we talk about a Will, it refers to a document that distributes your financial assets upon your death. Often though, people believe a Living Will is the same thing as a Will. This is incorrect. These are two separate and distinct estate planning documents. As just stated, a traditional Will, more formally known as the Last Will & Testament, transfers your financial wealth to your heirs or your distributees, including individuals and/or charities, you determine should receive your assets upon your death. A Living Will on the other hand, is a document that informs your health care agent (i.e., a person you choose to make health care decisions for you when you are unable) what your wishes are regarding your end-of-life care.

Unlike a Will, a Living Will is not authorized under New York law. Nonetheless, it can serve as a very important tool and guidance for your health care agent at a time that can be very emotional and upsetting for your family members. Most importantly, it helps ensure your stated wishes and desires control the outcome of your end-of-life situations. In the Living Will, you can make choices about life-prolonging medical care, such as whether you want your life to be prolonged through artificial nutrition and hydration and any extraordinary measures to be taken to preserve your life. These decisions can be burdensome for a family member or a health care agent to navigate on their own without your guidance. However, when you make these decisions in a Living Will, you take the onus away from another individual to determine the quality of your life to the very end. This can be crucially important to our clients. It can give them clarity and comfort knowing they have taken responsibility for these difficult decisions and not left it to their family to handle.

A Living Will is an essential document in the context of your estate plan and must be given due consideration just as you would your Will. Contact us at (516) 570-4016 to discuss your estate plan.