What is the difference between a living will and a living trust?

One of the most frequent questions I receive is about the difference between a living will and a living trust. Of course, leave it to attorneys and the law to sometimes make things more confusing than they are!

A living will is a written document that is witnessed and made of your own free will. It expresses your wishes about what medical decisions you would want made if you are terminally ill, have an end-stage condition or are in a persistent vegetative state. The Florida statutes define each of these states. An “end-stage” condition is one that is irreversible and has “resulted in a progressively severe and permanent deterioration, and which, to a reasonable degree of medical probability, treatment of the condition would be ineffective.” A “terminal condition” is one where there is “no reasonable medical probability of recovery and which, without treatment, can be expected to cause death.” A “persistent vegetative state” is a “permanent and irreversible condition of unconsciousness in which there is: (a) the absence of voluntary action or cognitive behavior or any kind and (b) an inability to communicate or interact purposefully with the environment.” An example of this last one would be the famous Florida case of Terri Schiavo. Her family spent hundreds of thousands of dollars battling over whether to keep her alive. These medical decisions are some of the hardest to make, but yet they are the most important. While the living will will make medical decisions for you if you cannot, it cannot make financial decisions. A living trust is one of the ways you can express your desires about your money.

A living trust is often called by many different things (revocable living trust, living trust, revocable lifetime trust to name a few). A trust, properly funded and managed, can help your loved ones make financial decisions that must be made in the event that you are incapacitated. Obviously, not everyone will be incapacitated. You can be alive and well, but a trust (through the trustee) can manage the money. After you die, the trust makes sure the money goes to the people who you want to have it.

The preparation of these documents can be tricky. And, because you want to make sure that you can rely on them, they should not be something that you do yourself. Make sure to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney so that you protect yourself, your money and your assets. If we can help you, please give our office a call today at 727-351-7057.

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