Although no one likes to think about it, estate planning is a vital move for anyone wishing to leave their property to their loved ones after they have passed on, as well as for those wanting to communicate their wishes about medical care. And one of the first and most vital building blocks of estate planning is the Last Will and Testament.

The Living Will

This document outlines your wishes where it comes to medical treatments that can prolong your life. The living will is also referred to as a health care directive, physician’s directive and advance directive. This document is an absolutely crucial one to have, as it will help any health care providers or family to know what your wishes for medical treatment are if you should become unable to communicate them yourself; therefore it is important to have this document all sorted out to avoid any confusions in the end, both individual attorneys and attorneys attached to law firms like Legalzoom can help you put a proper will in place, which takes care of the intricate details.

In making a living will, you maintain full control over which treatments are or are not applied in the event you enter a permanent vegetative state or become diagnosed with a terminal illness. But a living will only becomes active should you become incapacitated in some way. If you are not incapacitated, you don’t require a living will; you only need to communicate your wishes verbally. In order to activate a living will, certification must be provided by your physician along with a second physician that you do have a terminal illness or have entered into a permanently unconscious state.

Should your health not cause the necessity of a living will, but you are not able to speak for yourself, having a health care proxy or health care power of attorney may be best. These allow a person of your choice to make decisions about your health care for you.

The Living Trust

Unlike the living will that deals with your wishes regarding medical care, the living trust is concerned with the distribution of your assets after you have passed away. The benefit of having a living trust is two-fold: with this document, no will is needed, and the living trust eliminates the expense of probate court.

Traditionally speaking, a trust is actually an arrangement between you, the donor, another person, the trustee, and a third individual, the beneficiary. You place items or money under a trustee’s care to be distributed to a beneficiary at a specific time. The only difference between the traditional trust and the living trust is that the latter identifies you as the trustee and the holder – not the owner – of any property you wish to pass along to loved ones. In the case of a will, if you were to leave property to a family member following your death, they would first have to go through probate court to obtain it. This is not required with a living trust.

In addition to the above individuals, a living trust also includes a successor trustee, who ensures that all property is distributed according to your wishes and closes the trust following your death.

Do You Need A Last Will Or Trust?

A last will and trust is not a necessity. But before deciding not to go forward with these documents, it’s important to think about your loved ones. Without either of these documents, no one will know what to do if you become unable to speak for yourself, including any physicians that are caring for you.

Without a last will and testament, the state you passed away in will assume control. This means that a last will be provided for you. However, this can cause different people to receive your assets and property than you desired.

How to Find the Right Lawyer for Your Estate Needs

There are online resources to help get the support from attorneys that you may need. But it cannot be stated enough that finding an individual who has the experience needed to do this work is crucial. Some lawyers can be biased in their representation of clients due to existing relationships with banking institutions. In fact, there have been several cases in the past where trusts have been structured in such a way as to provide greater benefit to a bank.

The best way to ensure that the above scenario does not happen to you is to find a legal professional that is independent of these types of relationships. Once you have confirmed there is no bias, you can then ask the professional about their certification and previous experience with the last will or trust. While it can cost you some  to retain experienced legal counsel, this cost can be a lot less than the potential money lost should you choose to form a will or trust on your own, or place your faith in a biased individual.

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