Legal terms are confusing and one of the most confusing terms is “living will,” a term I would like to send to extinction.
People often believe when they sign a living will they have some kind of plan in place to help their loved ones after they pass on. Sadly, nothing can be farther from the truth.
A living will is a very limited scope document intended for one purpose only—to inform healthcare workers how you want to be treated if you cannot communicate. That’s it.
The living will is strictly intended to help make sure your wishes are followed if you cannot speak for yourself; so your fate is not left up to the courts, draining resources away from your loved ones and suffering needlessly. Think Karen Ann Quinlan, Nancy Cruzan and Terri Schiavo.
The proper legal term for a living will is “Advance Healthcare Directive”. While a Directive is a critically important document when it’s needed, it’s not a will like a “Last Will & Testament”, which is a document distributing your assets in a court proceeding. A living will is a healthcare document that applies if you are incapacitated. A Last Will & Testament is a wealth transfer document that kicks in after you die.
From time to time, I meet people who show me a document and say, “See! I have a will.”
“That’s not a will!” I want to scold. Instead, I calmly explain a living will is not the same as a Last Will & Testament. These people believe the document in their hands is all they need to make sure their loved ones don’t have to go to court when they die.
What they have is a form document. Often they haven’t even read it. Some living will forms are terribly written. Many don’t do what they think it does. This is a disaster waiting to happen—fortunately we can help you get a comprehensive legacy plan in place before you need it.
Another misconception is people believe having a will is all they need to do but even a Last Will & Testament is not, by itself, a comprehensive legacy plan. A will is merely one document among many comprising a solid plan. There’s so much missing and incomplete information online today that people really believe they can get by with a Do-It-Yourself plan, not knowing anything about how property is titled, what the legal effects of each document are, and how institutions interact with people during disability or at death.
A REAL legacy plan is not a document. It is an emergency response structure for all kinds of emergencies. A real plan is designed, thought out and carefully engineered to provide for you and your loved ones with minimal court intervention, reducing drama between loved ones and making life easier in tragic situations.
A REAL legacy plan is created by an experienced and specially trained professional – someone who doesn’t just dabble in planning for death. It’s a plan that will kick in when things don’t go as we expect, giving us peace of mind.
A REAL legacy plan includes an Advance Healthcare Directive, a Last Will & Testament and many other documents with guidance to carry out the design you and your attorney crafted together.
A REAL legacy planner is someone who spends time with you to understand what your wishes and vision are for your family and designs a plan you can understand.
A REAL legacy planner is not a general practitioner or an hourly biller who can’t tell you how much a plan will cost or how it should be maintained.
A REAL legacy plan is a process. It should take more than one meeting and include a significant education for you as the head of your household so you know how to approach the way you own property and assets will transfer to the right people when something happens to you.
A REAL legacy plan is a project people take on as one of their most important tasks as adults—to carefully provide for our loved ones.
A REAL legacy plan captures your intangible wealth, not just your monetary wealth. It makes sure your kids know more of who you are at your core—in the event you’re not here to share your wisdom with them in person. Your plan will share some of your most important values in an interesting and valuable way.
A REAL legacy plan is not cheap. And it shouldn’t be. Because you matter. What you do and how you do it are important to someone other than you.
A REAL legacy plan is an act of love and devotion. It announces to your family and the world you have arrived at adulthood – you are important to your family and your community.
Creating a legacy plan not only serves your family in an emergency, it is a critical step in your development as an adult. Take it seriously.
About the author: Catherine Swan opened Swan Law, PC in 2014 to help frazzled parents find peace and make sure children are best cared for if something happens to their parents. For ideas on how to select the best plan for you and your family, reach out to Swan Law, PC. We are a friendly and approachable law firm helping families with legacy planning and ensuring their plan matches their goals, concerns, and desires. We educate families on probate, last wills, and living trusts, and how legacy planning that focuses on serving your family for generations can help. Call Jamie at 970.879.1572 or email firstname.lastname@example.org