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The difference between living wills and living trusts

The law is sometimes confusing to California residents because the names of completely different legal documents may sound very similar. This is especially true in the area of estate planning. Living wills and living trusts sound like they would both serve similar purposes, but they are actually used in very different situations. Using the term 'will" to describe a living will also causes confusion as the provisions of the document go into effect while its drafter is still alive.

A living will, also referred to as an advance medical directive, is drafted to address end of life issues and lets doctors know when medical treatment should be terminated. The document does not apply to care that improves comfort or reduces pain, but it does deal with medical intervention that would, or could, prolong life. Prolonging procedure declarations are at the other end of the legal spectrum. These documents tell doctors to keep treating their drafters until all health care options have been exhausted.

Living trusts deal with assets rather than medial issues. These documents are drafted because they give grantors greater control over their estates and may provide them with tax benefits. Assets placed into living trusts, which are also known as revocable or inter vivos trusts, can benefit the grantor while he or she is still alive. After the grantor dies, the assets placed into a living trust are distributed according to its provisions.

Attorneys with estate planning experience could explain the many benefits of trusts to individuals who would like more control over when and how their assets will be distributed. Attorneys could also point out that trusts keep these matters discrete by avoiding the public probate process and may be prudent documents to draft when heirs are struggling with emotional or substance abuse problems, have manipulative spouses, or have been reckless with money in the past.

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