Questions to ask before writing a living will (Part 1)

A living will — together with other estate planning documents, such as a health care proxy — is essential for caring for and protecting loved ones and communicating your medical wishes. These estate planning documents are important not just for those who are older or who have significant medical diagnoses, but also for people who are young and healthy.

Here are key questions to work through and bring to medical professionals and attorneys as you create a living will. I’ll start with 3 of these questions today, and write about 5 more questions later this week in Part 2. Here are the first 3 questions to consider:

— What is a living will?

— What’s the difference between a will, a living will and a living trust?

— Do I need a living will?

What Is a Living Will?

A living will is a written document communicating someone’s wishes regarding medical treatment in the event they become unable to communicate those wishes. A living will is often used together with other estate planning documents, like a health care proxy.

“It frequently provides that, if there is a medical determination that you will not recover, you do not wish to be kept alive by artificial means, but you do want palliative care such as pain medication,” Thomas R. Fazio, an attorney at Blodnick Fazio & Clark in New York, wrote in an email, “Or it may express your desire that medical professionals do everything in their power to prolong your life, or anything in between those extremes.”

What’s the Difference Between a Will, a Living Will and a Living Trust?

While a will and living trust focus on an individual’s assets and property, a living will is used to communicate that person’s medical and health wishes.

“A living will is significantly different from a last will and testament or a living trust,” Troy Alexander Werner, an attorney at the Werner Law Firm in California, wrote in an email. “A last will and testament and living trusts deal primarily with who you wish to have inherit your assets when you pass away, and who will be in charge of distributing those assets to your beneficiaries.”

Although these documents have similar names, they focus on different estate planning goals. Werner also says it’s important for most people to have at least a will, living will, and financial power of attorney.

“For individuals who own a home, real property, or have minor children, a living trust is generally also recommended to avoid having to deal with probate court to inherit assets and to generally make things as easy as possible for your beneficiaries,” he says.

Do I Need a Living Will?

Understanding the purpose of a living will as part of your estate plan and how it works together with your other documents is key.

“When clients say they want a document I never ask why, I say, ‘What do you want that document to do for you or what do you think that document will do for you?’” says Vincent E. Bonazzoli, an attorney and founder of Family Estate Planning Law Group in Massachusetts. “You have to get beyond the assumptions.”

While it’s important for nearly everyone to have a living will, this document should be created in conjunction with other documents that fit together and are tailored to meet the individual’s specific needs.

In my next post, I will address five more questions to work through when creating a living will:

— How do I get a living will?

— How much does it cost to put together a living will?

— What should be included in a living will?

— Do I need anything else?

— Where should I put my living will?

For help creating or updating your estate planning documents, contact us at Wilson and Wilson Estate Planning and Elder Law, LLC at 708 482 7090 for our main office in LaGrange, Illinois or at 847 656 8958 for our Northbrook, Illinois office.


Questions to ask before writing a living will