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What Are the Differences Between Wills and Living Wills?


It is not uncommon for people to feel confused when they are asked if they have a living will. Though many understand that a will specifies their final requests and bequests, living wills are different. It is essential to understand the differences between wills and living wills, especially for people who are interested in estate planning.

What Are Last Wills?

Wills are legal documents designed to distribute a person’s assets after he or she passes away. Once the individual dies, a lawyer will share the information in the will with the person’s family or others affected by the will’s directions.

If no will exists, state laws determine who will handle the estate and who inherits the assets. Wills are important tools because they allow people to specify how they want their assets distributed. Wills also protect heirs from creditors, space out the distributions, and help avoid costly estates.

A wills also outlines who will be the guardians for minor children if both parents pass away. Additionally, a person can choose an executor, who will be responsible for administering the estate. Another area covered in wills are items of value, like homes, cars, family jewelry, and other heirlooms. Designating who gets what in writing can prevent fighting amongst relatives.

A will goes into effect after death but may be changed before that time. After a person dies, a court will oversee its administration and see that the assets are distributed as the person intended.

How do Trusts Work?

Trusts are legal arrangements to manage assets but differ from wills. A trustee is chosen to hold legal title of a beneficiary’s property. The trustee can be a person, law firm, bank, or other institution. Trusts usually have two kinds of beneficiaries. The first will receive income from the trust while he or she is living; the second gets what is left after that first group of beneficiaries passes away.

A key difference between trust and wills is that trusts go into effect when they are created. This way, the assets can be distributed before the person dies or afterwards. Also, trusts do not have to be probated, so the court does not need to get involved.

What Are Living Wills?

One reason why revocable living wills are harder to understand could be because they are also called advance directives and health care directives. Basically, a living will is also a legal document, but it does not distribute assets like wills and trusts.

Living wills specify how people want their end-of-life medical care to be carried out. This is the reason why people are asked if they have living wills when they are admitted to hospitals.

State requirements for living wills vary, so it may be a good idea to have a wills and estates law firm help with preparing the documents. Living wills have to meet state laws pertaining to witnesses and notarization. Once signed, the document can go into effect; in some cases, physicians will also rely on direct communication with their patients.

A common component of livings wills is the section specifying that palliative care will or will not be administered. People may wish to be comfortable and not in pain, but do not want extraordinary measures, such as CPR, to be started to extend their lives. This all depends on the individual’s wishes, though.

What is a Power of Attorney?

Many living wills are used alongside a durable power of attorney for health care. This is used to appoint another person to ensure that a person’s wishes for end-of-life treatment is carried out as specified.

How Can a Lawyer Help Me?

A skilled estate planning attorney can help you with your estate planning needs and will help you create a will. It is essential to plan out your long-term needs, and to make sure that your family will be taken care of.

Chester County Wills and Estates Lawyers at Eckell Sparks Offer Skilled Counsel for Your Estate Planning Needs

It is not always easy to discuss wills and living trusts but doing so can provide comfort for you and your family’s future needs. Our experienced Chester County wills and estates lawyers at Eckell, Sparks, Levy, Auerbach, Monte, Sloane, Matthews & Auslander, P.C. will address all of your concerns. For a free consultation, contact us online or call us at 610-565-3701. Our offices are located in Media and West Chester, Pennsylvania, and we serve clients throughout Delaware County, Chester County, and Montgomery County.

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A Message to Our Clients About Coronavirus COVID-19:

We want to assure everyone that during this unprecedented and difficult time, we are still operating and will continue to meet all the legal needs of the residents of the Delaware Valley. While the Governor’s recent orders have restricted our ability to maintain and run our physical offices, Eckell Sparks has deployed a variety of applications and hardware that allows both our attorneys and our support staff to work remotely from home, prepare legal documents, confer with clients remotely, and provide consultations to those seeking legal advice. For more than 50 years, our Firm has been a force in the Delaware Valley legal community. And by leveraging technology, we will continue to do so both during, and after, the current public health emergency.

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