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The differences between wills, living wills and living trusts

A California attorney who specializes in helping clients formulate effective estate plans understands the usefulness of wills and trusts, but the average individual may be less familiar. Conversely, an estate planning attorney cannot decide an individual's desires concerning end-of-life medical care, beneficiaries' worthiness or assets to pass on after death.

Those personal choices are up to an estate owner. An individual's last wishes can be actualized by employing legal advisers to craft documents like living wills and trusts. In order to achieve the desired results, it is necessary to understand what these documents accomplish.

Although they have similar names, a will and living will are separate legal documents with unique functions. A living will pertains to and gives direction regarding the medical care of an incapacitated, but still living individual. A health care proxy can be assigned as an aspect of this to appoint a trusted person to make medical decisions in the event the individual is incapacitated.

Conversely, a will takes effect only after the death of the person who created it. Wills are formal directions for the distribution of a deceased person's assets. Wills also resolve other legal issues like guardianship.

Living or revocable trusts are loaded with assets that benefit a person who is alive. The contents of the living trust may be changed or revoked during a trustmaker's lifetime. This means that it is possible for a living individual to be a trustmaker, trustee and the beneficiary of a living trust, all at the same time. Then, upon the trustmaker's death, the assets within the trust would be managed by a named trustee on behalf of designated beneficiaries.

While this is a very high level overview of how some key aspects of estate planning function, there are still many other issues that can be addressed and unique needs that can be tailored to an individual. To learn more about how best to utilize these documents in planning for health, long-term care and the care of loved ones after an individual's passing, it is best to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Source:, "Living Will vs. Living Trust," Arleen Richards, Dec. 5, 2012

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