What is the Difference Between a Living Will and a Will?

Legaldocuments and the jargon they use are often quite confusing. When you hear the terms ‘living will’ and ‘will’, you may be tempted to consider both to be the same. Since both have “will” in their names, it would be reasonable for you to think that they’re similar. But in reality, they aren’t. Rather, they are quite different from each other. Before knowing how different they are, you need to understand what each of them means. Let’s take a closer look at both to find the answers.

Living Will

A living will, also called an ‘advance directive’ or ‘advance decision’, is a document where you can outline your decisions about refusing certain medical treatment such as life support, chemotherapy, CPR, etc. in case you become terminally ill or don’t have the ability to make such decisions for yourself and communicate them.

A living will is legally binding in England and Wales if they meet some specific requirements. Thus, if the healthcare professionals treating you know you’ve made such a will, they have to follow it. Choosing to ignore it would mean they could be taken to court.

The situation is slightly different in Scotland and Northern Ireland where healthcare teams must take into account a person’s advance directive about refusing certain medical treatments. However, they aren’t bound by law to follow it.


Also called the ‘last will’ or ‘last will and testament’, it’s a legally binding document that usually provides instructions on how your assets should be distributed in the event of your death. Thus, you can use it to describe how you want your property and possessions to be divided after your death along with naming guardians for your children in case they’re less than 18 years old.

A will is an important document to have as it gives you control over where or to whom your property, money, and other possessions will go after you pass away. Not having a proper will in place before you die would mean the law gets to determine who’ll receive what proportion of your assets.

The differences

  1. The intention

The intention behind making a living will and a last will are different.

The former gives you more control over your future by making it known what kind of medical treatments you don’t want to receive in the future if you become unable to make such decisions on your own.

The latter too gives you more control, albeit on your property and possessions, by clearly stating what should go to whom after you die.

  • The purpose and target audience

The purpose of a living will is to provide instructions to your GP or health care providers by stating your preferences for medical treatment. This typically means detailing whether or not you want to receive life-sustaining treatments, such as intravenous feeding, artificial respiration, chemotherapy, or other treatments and medical procedures.

The aim of the last will is to express your preferences to your family members and others with a stake in your belongings. Thus, from how your assets should be disposed of and who should inherit your business to appointing a guardian for your minor children or other dependents, the last will would have it all.

  • When they take effect

A living will takes effect while you are still alive, but are seriously ill or incapacitated, typically due to being in a vegetative state or a coma that has made you incapable of communicating.

In contrast, a last will takes effect after your (the testator’s) death, when it must be filed with a probate court.

Wrapping up

Despite being different, both living wills and last wills provide instructions for situations when you can’t communicate your wishes and preferences. And having one doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t need the other.

Ideally, you should have both because they give you peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be followed. Additionally, they can help avoid disagreements and time-consuming, expensive litigation among your loved ones related to either your end-of-life treatment or the distribution of your assets.

Scroll to Top