If you have ever found yourself being admitted to a hospital, or in any other situation that involves triage, you have likely been asked whether or not you have a living will. It is probably safe to say that a great majority of people do not know that a living will is different that a will.

A living will concerns only your health care. Its purpose is to name an individual to act as your health care agent, and provide that person with specific direction. In the event a person becomes incapacitated, and there is a living will in place, a health care team will contact the named agent for instructions. That person would then give the healthcare team orders in a life or death situation. In other words, he or she would make the decision of whether or not to sustain or remove life support. This is why choosing a trustworthy health care agent is so important.

A living will, though its purpose may sound the same, is not the same as a do not resuscitate order (DNR). A DNR is a document that gives your healthcare team direct advisement on whether or not to perform resuscitative, life saving measures. If it is clearly visible and valid, then a healthcare team is not required to contact any other party for instructions. They will not resuscitate.

 A will is a document that sets out a person’s wishes of how assets should be distributed after that person becomes deceased. It is completely different that a living will and involves much more detail. A will becomes the instructions for the executor of an estate, detailing exactly what to do with all that is left behind. Though not everyone has a living will in place, it is highly advisable for anyone who will leave behind assets and heirs to talk with an estate planning attorney about completing a will. There are specific healthcare protocols that fall into place when no living will is present. Likewise, there are probate rules that apply to any estate without a will. However, things become far more complex for those left behind after a person dies. Having a will that details last wishes is helpful during a difficult time.