When it comes to estate planning in Colorado, wills and living wills are two essential documents that almost everyone includes in their plan. Why is this? Why do people make both wills and living wills? Are the two documents basically the same?
While the terminology can be a bit confusing, a will and a living will are very different tools that serve very different purposes. To help better explain why your estate plan will almost always include both a will and a living will, let’s take a look at some important issues.
Wills, sometimes known more formally as last wills and testaments, are documents that serve as a foundational piece of almost every estate plan. Regardless of what else you choose to include in your plan, it will almost certainly include a last will and testament because these documents allow you to make specific, and vital, estate planning decisions.
A will is best known as a tool that allows you to make inheritance choices. Through your last will and testament you get to choose who inherits your property after you die. You will also get to make other important decisions, such as choosing an executor of your estate, and choosing who you want to serve as a guardian of any minor children you might have under your care.
Wills must comply with specific requirements as imposed under Colorado law. Also, anyone who is a capable adult can make a will at any time, or modify a previous will they have made. Wills do not become effective until after you die, so as long as you remain mentally competent you can make or modify your will whenever you like.
Living wills are entirely different from last wills and testaments. A living will is a document that gives you the ability to make medical choices that will take effect if you become incapacitated. As long as your living will meets legal requirements, your health care providers will be obligated to honor the decisions you make in the document if you lose the ability to communicate or make choices.
Wills and Living Wills
Because of the different questions that wills and living wills address, your plan will need to include both of these important documents. You cannot, for example, use a living will to make inheritance choices, or name an executor of your estate. If you try to use a living will in this manner, a court will not recognize your wishes.
Further, because a last will and testament only takes effect after you die, it is useless as a tool to try to protect your choices in the event you become incapacitated.
A comprehensive estate plan should address both what you want to happen should you lose your ability to make choices, as well as address what you want to happen to your property after you die.