What is the Difference Between a Living Will and an Advance Directive?

This post discusses some of the differences between an advance directive and a living will. Although they are largely the same, there are a few important things worth pointing out for Arkansas residents considering drafting these important documents.

As a trusted Arkansas estate planning law firm, we’re often asked to help describe the differences between confusing estate planning documents like living wills and advance directives. In this post, we’ll get into some of the details of both and why both are important documents to draft and formalize.

What is an Advance Directive?

These can be oral or written and provide detailed instructions about the type of medical care you’ll want in the future should you become unable to make decisions for yourself. Within these documents, living wills are one version of this that takes effect if you become terminally ill.

Advance directives are not permanent and can (and should) be revisited often for updates and amendments. Loved ones and those you want responsible for decision-making should also be kept in the loop.

Within the advance directive, you’ll need to name a “healthcare proxy” – the person you’ve assigned to make medical decisions on your behalf. (This person could also be called a“healthcare agent” or “surrogate”.) These responsibilities are called “durable” because they remain legally effective regardless of your medical condition. Obviously, this is a significant responsibility, and the proxy should be someone competent and someone you trust.

What is a Living Will?

Although it’s a type of advance directive, a living will is often combined with a durable power of attorney document to highlight wishes and plans for long-term care. Some of these documents may also offer direction about organ donation and autopsy upon death, but living wills do end when the person dies.

What To Put in a Living Will or Directive

While forms are available to combine the intent of the durable power of attorney (for advocacy) and the intent of the living will (to state end-of-life treatment choices), it’s important to consult a knowledgeable estate planning attorney to understand how each decision affects your broader picture. An experienced attorney will help you understand what to – and what not to – put in these documents.


Clients across Arkansas trust Natural State Law with all of their living will and advance directive needs. Call (501) 916-2878 to learn more.