A Will is a legal document that specifies who will get your property when you die. It names the people you want to settle your estate and administer any trusts you have established as part of your Will. It also names the individuals you want to care for any children you may have.
By executing a Will, you maintain some control over the disposition of your property after your death. Generally, estates can be settled faster, easier and with less expense with a Will than without one. If you have a large estate, drawing up a Will in combination with one or more trusts can help limit the tax liability of your estate.
Executed properly, a Will also can enable you to transfer property and investments to your heirs. Wills requiring complex estate planning strategies, including trusts, are best prepared with the help of your lawyer.
If you die intestate, or without a Will, you will lose control over your estate. Although your property will most likely go to your spouse and children in this case, different states have different ways of dividing estates which may affect the outcome.
If you are creating a financial or estate plan, it makes sense to establish a Will as part of the planning process. Assistance from a lawyer familiar with Wills and estate planning is considered the best way; in fact, some states require it. In any case, your Will must include your signature and those of two or more people who witness your signing of the document. Witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of your Will.
A Living Will is used to specify the degree of medical treatment that you would want if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. It makes your healthcare wishes clear to your family, friends and doctors, ensuring that your wishes are carried out. It also eases the burden on your loved ones who might otherwise have to make serious decisions for you.
Although a Living Will can be drawn up without the help of a lawyer, your wishes still need to be authorized. You can do this by naming a health care proxy, which is a person you authorize to make decisions regarding your treatment. You also may grant a durable power of attorney to someone who, like the proxy, then has the power to make the health care decisions you want.
If you feel strongly about the kind of medical care you would or wouldn't want to receive should you fall gravely ill, you should draft a Living Will as soon as possible. Court cases involving a patient's right to live or die often involve younger people, not the elderly.
To get started, put your wishes on paper. If you are already working with a lawyer to draft a Will regarding your estate, you should consider drafting a Living Will at the same time.