What’s the Difference Between a Will and a Living Will?


The Difference is Critical

I wish we didn’t call a Living Will a Living Will. I can’t tell you how many times people have mistaken a Living Will for a real Will. The difference is so critical that we need to start calling a Living Will by its proper legal name “Directive to Physicians.”

Sounds different, right? That’s because it is radically different from a Will. A Living Will is a healthcare document that tells the healthcare industry what your end of life wishes are. It answers the questions “Do you want your life artificially prolonged?” “How long should we wait before we remove life support?” “Should we continue to hydrate and feed you if you’re still living after we remove life support?” In this sense, it directs physicians how to care for you when you’re dying.

This is very different than what a Will does. A Will is a financially dispositive document for your assets only. A Will has nothing to do with your healthcare. A Will determines who your heirs are, what they will inherit, and how they will inherit after you die (and only after probate where your creditors are paid first).

Many people are going through life with insufficient legal documents in place. Take another look at any documents you have and determine if you have a Will or a Directive to Physicians. If you’re not sure, please get the support of a professional. We’re here to help.


A Living Will is for healthcare. It’s proper name is “Directive to Physicians”.


A Will disposes of assets after probate and has nothing to do with healthcare.

It’s easy to mix these two up, I know. Even my own husband has had to ask me a couple times what the difference is. So repeat after me–a Will if for assets, a Living will is a Directive to Physicians. Got it?




About the Author - Martha Hartney

A later-in-life attorney, Martha Hartney opened the practice in 2010 to serve the people she loves because she is committed to helping moms and dads bring their greatest gifts into parenting fearlessly and with joy and making sure children are completely cared for if something happens to their parents.

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