You probably already know exactly what a last will is, but do you really understand what a living will is? Both of these wills are often important to an estate plan, but while a last will is one specific document, a living will is actually a collection of documents.

The purpose of a living will is to express your preferences and create protections for yourself and your loved ones in the event that you experience a medical event or emergency that leaves you incapacitated. A living will empowers people to take action on your behalf and also give them guidance about your wishes.

A living will may include several kinds of power of attorney documents

Power of attorney allows one person to make decisions or take actions on behalf of another in specific situations. Some people separate medical authority from financial authority and name different people to fulfill these roles, while others name one person to hold both kinds of authority.

It’s important to know that when you create power of attorney documents for financial and medical decisions, you can craft them in a way that limits what resources the other person can access and what purpose they can use those resources for. You might limit someone to only accessing one particular bank account to pay necessary household expenses, for example.

You may also want to consider including a durable power of attorney. If the courts end up declaring you incapacitated, your other power of attorney documents will lose their authority. A durable power of attorney persists even if you become incapacitated permanently.

An advance medical directive or health care directive will guide others

You can commit your medical preferences to writing in order to ensure that other people know what decisions to make for you. You may want to consider issues such as resuscitation, organ and tissue donation, blood transfusions, life support, and other medical treatment.

Being explicit about your preferences and expectations is essential. Leave formal documentation for those with the legal power to make decisions on your behalf and possibly another with the doctor or hospital authorized to provide you with treatment. This will ensure that people follow your wishes and won’t just guess about what you want when you can’t speak for yourself.