Virginia residents are sometimes confused by the amount of paperwork that can be included in an estate plan, and their bewilderment sometimes grows when they find out that some of these documents have names that sound alike. It would be reasonable to assume that living wills and living trusts are broadly similar, but that is not the case. While their names may sound the same, the two documents actually serve very different purposes.

Living wills are drafted to provide physicians with guidance and instructions regarding end-of-life situations. They specify when life-prolonging treatment should end and only care that reduces pain and provides comfort should be administered. Documents like living wills are known as advanced medical directives. A life-prolonging procedure declaration is another type of advanced medical directive that provides doctors with a very different set of instructions. These documents tell medical professionals that their drafters wish to remain alive for as long as possible and want treatment to continue until every option has been exhausted.

A living trust does not deal with health care. These documents give individuals more control over their estates and can reduce their taxes. They are an alternative to a traditional last will and testament and include provisions that stipulate when and how assets will be distributed. Another benefit of living trusts is that they allow an estate to be administered more privately because the assets placed into them are not subject to probate.

Attorneys with estate planning experience could help clear up confusion over documents like living wills and living trusts and help individuals attain the peace of mind that comes from knowing these matters have been attended to. Lawyers could also suggest revisiting estate plans on a regular basis and modifying them when circumstances change. This is an especially prudent step to take after divorce.