If you are starting to think about estate planning, you may wonder about the difference between a will and a living will. Estate planning is all about how to prepare for the unexpected in your life. Planning for your future health issues or death gives your family the tools they need to get through a crisis. Making a plan is a gift to your loved ones. Let’s look at what it means to write a will vs. writing a living will.

What is a Will?

A last will and testament, called a will for short, is a written document legally binding in NC when witnessed by two other people who also sign your will. There is no need for a notary, but getting your will notarized makes it even more official. Your will spells out your wishes and desires for everything you own, including:

  • Children are named in your will as you designate who you wish to care for them when you’re gone. Especially if you are a single parent, this is a crucial planning step for you. Without a plan, your kids could end up in the foster care system.
  • Digital assets such as essays, graphic designs, emails, texts, and digital pictures.
  • Personal assets such as jewelry, furniture, collectibles, wine, boats, vehicles, or ATVs
  • Real Estate such as your home, a vacation home, land, or timeshares
  • Bank accounts and retirement funds (although these must also list the same beneficiaries on the actual accounts. If the accounts state a different heir, your statement in the will is null and void)
  • Stocks, bonds, CD’s

Why Write a Will?

If you do not write a will and pass away without one, the state of North Carolina will divide your estate according to Intestate Law. Intestate law is a complicated legal system of determining who gets what through bloodline legal determinations. You may think that your spouse would inherit everything, but if your estate goes to probate without a will, your spouse may only receive a percentage of what you’ve left behind. 

It is important to plan so that you can make these decisions for yourself. Your will is about your own belongings. You know best who should inherit each item you own. No one else, least of all the state, knows best who should inherit. 

What is a Living Will?

You write a will so that your family knows what to do after you die. You write a living will so that loved ones know what to do before you die. A living will, also called a health care or advance directive, is a legal document spelling out your wishes for end-of-life medical care.

Approximately 70% of those aged 65 and up will need some type of long-term care before they pass away. Another large percentage will need drastic medical interventions to continue living. If you don’t make decisions about your end-of-life care, who will?

Why Write a Living Will?

Let’s say you’re in a car accident that lands you in the hospital with a broken skull and swollen brain. If you are 65 years old at the time of the accident, you may not heal as quickly as you’d like. 

Perhaps the doctors think you will heal faster in an induced coma state. However, if you also develop a lung infection while in the hospital that turns into sepsis, the doctors may recommend a risky new antibiotic. Perhaps the doctors find a piece of skull bone lodged in your dura mater, and you need surgery immediately. 

If you are in a coma or otherwise medicated to the point where you cannot make good decisions for yourself, the doctors will ask your next of kin for a decision. How will your family know what you want? 

With a living will, your family can make decisions with confidence, following your wishes. If you’ve written a living will (advance directive), your loved ones have documentation of your desires. They can refer to your living will and know what you would have wanted next. 

What Does a Living Will Include?

A Living Will or Advance Directive includes many medical treatments and procedures you may object to or refuse to allow. You may also state in your living will which interventions you find acceptable. Your living will may contain directives with your wishes for:

  • DNR
  • Blood transfusions
  • Dialysis
  • Intubation and Respirators
  • Types of acceptable surgeries
  • Induced Coma 

Some individuals prefer to use every medical intervention possible to prolong their life while others would rather pass away than go through unending medical procedures. Every individual has their preferences. That is why it’s crucial to write a living will.

We Can Help

If you are considering writing your will or a living will, our experienced estate planning attorneys at Hogan, Edwards, and Blue want to walk you through the process. Being prepared for the unexpected just makes sense for yourself and your family. No one wants to think about a day when you can no longer make decisions for yourself, but choosing not to prepare is just a form of denial. Stay ready for the unexpected so that your loved ones know how to handle any situation.