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Reasons You Need a Living Will

by Caldwell Trust

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Most people think of estate planning as the process of having a will and/or trust prepared. While that's an important component of the process, estate planning also involves planning for periods of lifetime incapacity. A living will is an important legal document that should be a part of everyone's estate plan. In this blog post, we will explore what a living will is, who needs one, and what to consider when documenting your health care wishes with a living will.

A Living Will Forms the Backbone of Your Estate Plan

Where your will or trust serve to identify what happens to your estate and assets after you've died, a living will is only valid during your lifetime. Rather than dealing with the management of your financial affairs, your living will is designed to document your wishes for health care. The idea is that if you become incapacitated and can no longer speak to make your own wishes known, your living will can serve as a guide for your loved ones.


As with other estate planning documents, living wills are governed by state-specific laws. In some states, these documents are called "advanced health care directives," "advanced medical directives," "advanced directives," or other similar language. Regardless of what they're called, these documents typically have two main components:

  1. They allow you to designate an authorized agent who will be able to speak for you, carry out your wishes and make decisions; and
  2. The spell out what's most important to you in terms of health care decisions.


Why Create a Living Will?

Any adult over the age of 18 can (and should) establish their own living will. And the best time to prepare and sign a living will is now, while you have the mental capacity to do so. Waiting until a medical disaster strikes may mean that you won't be able to create a living will. This could create a need for your loved ones to have to work through court processes to establish a legal guardianship for you.


Some common triggering reasons for establishing living wills include the following:

  • Declining health or being diagnosed with a terminal condition
  • Upcoming surgery or the possibility of a hospitalization
  • Desire to designate a specific individual to make healthcare decisions for you
  • Desire to document your wishes in writing, legally, so it is more likely that those wishes will be honored

Characteristics of Strong Living Wills

To be valid, your living will must comply with your state's laws. Beyond that, there are some additional considerations that can help make your living will more useful for your loved ones.

Generally speaking, the best living wills are those that are specific enough to clearly identify health care wishes, rather than being vague or leaving all decisions up to a named health care agent. As life events make information included in your living will outdated or no longer relevant, you should update the document so it is current and still reflects your wishes.


Living Wills Can Provide Valuable Peace of Mind

None of us know what the future holds in store. Creating a living will now can provide both you and your loved ones with valuable peace of mind knowing that, if disaster strikes, your wishes have been clearly documented. As you work to ensure your estate planning strategies and related legal documents reflect your wishes for what should happen after you die, don't forget about the importance of planning for potential periods of lifetime incapacity, and give your loved ones a gift by creating your living will.

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