What is a Living Will?

Whoever came up with the legal terms for documents in a standard Will package badly needed a crash course in marketing. The terms are confusing and tell you little about the function of each document included.

A great example is the difference between a "Living Will" and a "Will".

I commonly hear these terms being used interchangeably though they refer to entirely different concepts. 

A "Living Will" is a document stating a person's wishes regarding medical treatment in circumstances in which they are no longer able to express informed consent.

Personally, I never use the term because it's too easily confused with an actual Will.  I prefer to talk to clients about Health Directives (stating preferences for care and end-of-life decisions) and Health Care Durable Power of Attorney (documents naming another person to make decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitate).  

Your "Will" is something else entirely.

Your Will contains a set of instructions for what to do with your assets after you die and names people to be in charge of minor children or attend to your assets. 

You can freight up your Will with all kinds of instructions as to health care or when to pull the plug but no one will look at it until after you have passed -- a bit late in the process.  

When a prospective client asks me for a Living Will, it triggers a red flag.  It generally means we need to slow down, understand the client's goals and the build up the pieces that the client needs to have in place.  

Michael Geoghegan