Joan Rivers' Death Reinforces Need to Prepare

Jackie Bedard
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Attorney, Author, and Founder of Carolina Family Estate Planning

It's perhaps the most difficult decision a person can make: deciding it is time to take a loved one off of life support. There's an awful power in that responsibility. Once the directive is carried out, there is no going back, no do-over, no reprieve. 

But as difficult as the decision is, it's also one of the greatest acts of love a person can share with another. 

Taking a loved one off of life support is played out privately countless times a day across the United States and around the world. Now imagine having to make that decision in the public eye. That's what Melissa Rivers did when she decided to take her mother, comic legend Joan Rivers, 81, off life support on September 4

Before her death, Joan Rivers named Melissa as her power of attorney to make medical decisions, Communities Digital News reports. It's not currently known if Joan Rivers also had a living will or a do not resuscitate (DNR) order, but her death is a note of caution that you need to have these documents in order before these papers are needed.

No such thing

Active and engaging, Joan Rivers went in for what's described as a minor procedure on her vocal cords, CNN says. While on the operating table, she suffered cardiac and respiratory failure and was placed on life support.

Her death is a reminder that there is no such thing as "minor" surgery. Opening up the human body - despite the advanced medical care and procedures used today - is inherently risky. 

There are no guarantees, but there are ways for you  to prepare for the unexpected. Your values will direct your loved one's, and one of the most important decisions they make will be whether quality of life outweighs the quantity of life.

Just as you make your financial wishes known to your children, you also need to make your medical wishes clear as well. 

Cover all your bases

First, the Mayo Clinic says, you should set up a medical or healthcare power of attorney. The person named can be a family member, a close friend, or a member of a faith community, whomever you trust. You should pick alternates in case the person can't fulfill his role. 

Choosing someone to act as your healthcare agent is important because not all situations can be anticipated. This person should be trusted to follow your wishes and values, Mayo Clinic says, and she should be your advocate if there are disagreements about care.

To make sure your wishes are known, a living will spells out exactly what you want. As the Mayo Clinic points out, it is a written, legal document that details what you would - and would not - want done to keep you alive. 

In that living will, you can detail your wishes on a number of fronts, including: resuscitation, ventilation, feeding tubes, dialysis, and antiviral or antibiotic medications. The more detail you give, the closer your wishes can be followed. 

Another document you could have is a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate). This document, Newsmax Health says, tells medical personnel that you don't want them to try get your heart beating again if it stops or is beating unevenly. Although these are often thought of as pertaining only to the elderly, they are useful in case of accidents or sudden-onset conditions.

The DNR can also include directives that ambulance personnel are not to resuscitate you. There are also forms you can fill out if you don't want CPR performed or if you do not want to be intubated. 

Although death is inevitable, preparing for it can ease you and your family members' minds when tough decisions have to be made. Our office is here to help you navigate those decisions and create planning documents to ensure your wishes are carried out.

To learn more about common estate planning issues, check out our free guide, Estate Planning Pitfalls: The 12 Most Common Threats to Your Estate & Your Family's Future, or to discuss your estate planning concerns, please call our office at 919-443-3035 or use our contact form.​