Two types of legal documents are referred to as wills. A last will and testament is an estate planning directive, which takes effect after your death. A living will includes health care directives and takes effect if you are incapacitated or physically unable to communicate. Each of these types of legal wills serve different purposes and both are important tools in the management of your personal legal affairs.
Create an affordable will with LegalZoom
Disposition of Property
A legal last will and testament serves the purpose of designating how you would like your personal property distributed at the time of your death. Assuming that your last will and testament has been lawfully made and executed, your stated intentions for the disposition of your property will be followed by your executor and the probate court in most circumstances. There are exceptions to this rule; for example, in most states you can not wholly disinherit your spouse if you remain legally married at the time of your death, and divorce is presumed to revoke a will provision leaving property to your former spouse, according to the Mahoning County, Ohio, Probate Court.
Guardianship for Minor Children
Naming a guardian for your minor children in the event of your death is an important purpose of a last will and testament. In most cases, the probate court will honor your designation of a legal guardian, unless the person you have appointed is unwilling or unable to serve. Many people also use a will to appoint caregivers for their pets or domestic livestock, often with a bequest of funds to help pay for their care.
Naming Your Executor
Naming an estate executor, or fiduciary representative, is an important purpose of a will, even if you think you have few assets at the time the will is written, advises the Mahoning County, Ohio, Probate Court. In the event that you are killed in an accident or other wrongful death event, your estate executor will be the person to bring a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of your heirs and family.
Health Care Directives
Your last will and testament does not become effective until you die and can't cause a transfer of rights in any property until your death, advises the North Carolina State Bar. The purpose of a living will is to issue directives regarding critical health care decisions, to guide your medical treatment professionals in the event that you are incapacitated and unable to communicate, according to the E Home Fellowship, a family support fellowship information site directed by minister and business management consultant Glen Williams. The laws of different states vary regarding the effect of a living will, with some state laws requiring execution of a durable health care power of attorney appointing someone to make medical treatment decisions for you in lieu of a living will.