Elderly Georgia residents hear many confusing terms about planning for a disabling or terminal illness and the disposition of their property on death. One of the most confusing questions is the difference between a living will and a last will and testament. Understanding this distinction can be the difference between removing a significant source of stress from a person's later years and facing increasingly difficult questions about disposing of a person's assets in a manner that precludes divisive arguments between descendants about the division of an elder relative's assets.
Perhaps the more familiar of the two terms is "last will and testament." A last will and testament is essentially a directive to the maker's executor or administrator about how to distribute the maker's property among descendants. Without a valid will, a person's property is distributed according to the state's rules of intestate succession. These rules may or may not match the decedent's wishes. A written will can remove all doubt and can eliminate disputes among descendants about how the decedent's property should be distributed.
A living will serves a much different purpose. In a living will, the maker specifies many choices about the medical treatment that should be rendered in the person's final days. The maker can specify whether or not to continue life support services and the circumstances under which such care should be withdrawn. The maker can also specify how and whether feeding tubes should be use. A related document is the durable power of attorney; these documents appoint another person to make medical decisions in the event that the maker is no longer capable of doing so.
Both kinds of wills can be amended as long as the maker is alive and competent to make such decisions. Anyone with questions about either a living will or a last will and testament may wish to consult with an attorney who is experienced in the legal issues that affect elderly Georgia residents.