Why is it important to include a living will in estate plans?

Although estate planning involves the designation of assets to one’s heirs or loved ones, it can also provide for the grantor during his or her lifetime.

Specifically, a living will, sometimes referred to as a health care directive, can memorialize an individual’s wishes regarding life-prolonging treatments in the event of his or her incapacity. Yet a living will cannot possibly account for every hypothetical medical situation that an individual might encounter. For example, an individual might not be in a life-threatening state, yet still unable to speak for his or her own care. For that reason, a health care power of attorney can be a wise complement to a living will, authorizing another individual to make health decisions that fall into this gap. 

A recent story illustrates the importance of including health planning in any comprehensive estate plan. According to the allegations brought by two of singer Glen Campbell’s children, Campbell’s wife is preventing his children from participating in their father’s care. The 78-year-old singer has late-stage Alzheimer’s disease and has been living in a long-term care facility for nearly nine months. The singer’s children have filed a court petition, seeking conservatorship. In addition, they are requesting a court-appointed guardian to manage their father’s financial and medical interests.

There are differences between a conservatorship and guardianship, as well as different types of guardianships. A conservatorship is often limited to the financial affairs of a protected person, whereas a guardianship can potentially include all of the person’s affairs. The legal relationship created by these different roles may also be full, limited or even temporary. They may also be held jointly among two or more individuals. An estate-planning attorney can explain these distinctions in greater detail.

Source:  Los Angeles Times, “Glen Campbell’s kids fighting singer’s wife for control of his affairs,” Christie D’Zurilla, March 4, 2015

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