How to Become an Organ Donor

If you want to become an organ donor, you need to communicate your wishes.
If you want to become an organ donor, you need to communicate your wishes.

If you want to become an organ donor, you should communicate those wishes to the people who will carry them out.

Organ donation is one of the most regulated aspects of the healthcare industry, and the legalities of being an organ donor have very unique considerations. Essentially, organ donation is the physical transfer of the body parts of a person (the donor) to another person through surgical means. Organ donation can occur during the donor’s lifetime or at the organ donor’s death. Here we’re focusing primarily on the transfer of organs at the time of the organ donor’s death.

Although the need for organ donations is exceptionally high worldwide, the supply is often low. The lack of clearly communicated and documented consent by a potential organ donor is one of the most common challenges to organ donation. Despite an individual’s desire to donate organs, a failure to follow the right protocol can render the individual’s decision unenforceable.

What You Can Donate

Scientific advancements now allow for a single donor to donate organs to up to seventy-five donees. Organ donors can provide their kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, and pancreas. Donors can also donate tissue such as bone, skin, tendons, corneas, bone marrow, and stem cells. There are even instances where hands and feet have been successfully transferred. However, for many of these organs, the transfer must be initiated within twenty-four hours. Additionally, each potential donor must be evaluated on a singular basis with respect to the particular organ at issue.

Alternatively, some donors are interested in donating their entire body to scientific research. If you are interested in this route, you must be careful to avoid organ donation opportunities because scientific research requires complete bodies. In such instances, identifying the scientific institute you are interested in donating to and working with that institute directly is the best method. As you work with them, be careful to document your specific intent to donate your remains to science.

Making Your Wishes Known

There are a number of ways to make your wishes regarding organ donation known and increase the likelihood that they will be enforced. The most effective approach is a comprehensive one. This involves registration as a donor, legal planning, and communication of your wishes. The first and most important step is registering as an organ donor, which you can do in two ways: (1) find your state’s unique registry on www.organdonor.org and register online or (2) register at your local department of motor vehicles. In the latter scenario, your license will likely state that you are an organ donor.

The next step you can take is ensuring your wishes are recorded in your estate planning documents. An advance healthcare directive and living will are key documents that can include your end-of-life wishes. Finally, to ensure that your wishes are known, communicate them to your friends and family. These are the people who will end up intimately involved with your end-of-life decisions. Carefully select your healthcare agent and clearly communicate to that agent your desire to donate your organs.

It is important to note that the steps described above should not be taken in isolation. This is particularly true regarding your estate plan and communication of your wishes to friends and family. If there are conflicts between your plan and what family members think your wishes are, some states give greater weight to the documents memorializing your wishes. Your estate plan should contain your wishes, as well as information on any donor registrations you have made. Your documented wishes should then be expressed to those closest to you and who will carry out your wishes after you pass away.

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When an Elderly Parent Refuses to Make a Will

An elderly parent may need your encouragement to get an estate plan.
An elderly parent may need your encouragement to get an estate plan.

This is a tough scenario. It happens more often than you’d think. Your elderly parent or other family member owns a home, investment accounts and a retirement account, but doesn’t want to have an estate plan. They know they need to do something, but keep putting it off—until they die, and the family is left with an expensive and stressful mess. A recent article titled “How to Get a Loved One to Visit an Estate Planning Attorney Before It’s Too Late” from Kiplinger, suggests ways to talk to a family member about the need for an estate plan.

Most people put off seeing an estate planning attorney, because they are afraid of death. They may also be overwhelmed by the thought of how much work is involved. They are also worried about what it all might cost. However, if there is no estate plan, the costs will be far higher for the family.

How do you get your elderly parent or other family member to understand that they need to move forward?

Talk with the financial professionals your elderly parent or family member already uses and trusts, like a CPA or financial advisor. Ask them for a referral to an estate planning attorney they think would be a good fit with your family member who doesn’t have an estate plan. It may be easier to hear this message from a CPA, than from an adult child.

Work with that professional to help your older family member get comfortable with the idea of talking about their wishes and values with the estate planning attorney. Offer to attend the meeting, or to facilitate the video conference, to make your loved one feel more comfortable.

An experienced estate planning attorney will have worked with reluctant people before. They’ll know how to put the older person at ease and explore their concerns. When the conversation is pleasant and productive, the person may understand that the process will not be as challenging as they had thought and that there will be a lot of help along the way.

If there is no trusted team of professionals, then offer to be a part of any conversations with the estate planning attorney to make the introductory discussion easier. Share your own experience in estate planning with your older family member and mention the reasons that prompted you to create an estate plan. Those reasons could include the peace of mind knowing that your family will not be faced with the time consuming and expensive task of trying to straighten out your affairs after you are gone.

Sometimes the best way to initiate a conversation with your elderly parents about estate planning is to mention that you are planning to do your own estate plan and ask their advice on what issues your should be considering. That may make it easier to ask your family member what they have done regarding their own estate plan.

Trying to force a person to engage in estate planning with a heavy hand, almost always ends up in a stubborn refusal. A gentle approach will always be more successful. Explaining how an estate plan includes not only distributing assets at death, but planning for medical decisions while the person is living, may motivate an otherwise reluctant family member to take that first step.

Describing what the family members will need to go through if there is no will, may or may not have an impact. Some people don’t care, and may simply shrug and say, “It’ll be their problem, not mine.” Consider what or who matters to the person. What if they could leave a gift to a favorite charity or create a fund for their grandchildren to go to college? That might be more motivating.

Another thing to consider: what if your elderly parent or family member has an estate plan and it is out of date? That may be just as bad as not having an estate plan at all, especially if tax laws have changed since the estate plan was made. Also, what if, instead of naming their children as agents to make medical decisions for them, an old health care directive names an undesirable person, such as a former brother-in-law to make medical decisions?

Most people really want to have an estate plan in place, but just never get around to doing it. You could provide a great service to your elderly parent or other family member by giving them the encouragement and assistance to move forward so they can cross this task off their list of things they need to take care of.

You may also be interested in https://www.galliganmanning.com/caring-for-an-elderly-parent-without-ruining-your-relationship/.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 11, 2020) “How to Get a Loved One to Visit an Estate Planning Attorney Before It’s Too Late”

 

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Coronavirus Causes Increase in Estate Plan Updates

Many estate plan updates are being done by video conference.
Many estate plan updates are being done by video conference.

With the ever-increasing number of deaths from the coronavirus in Europe and the U.S., many people are now focusing on getting their estate plans in order. Phone meetings or videoconferences with estate planning attorneys have become the new way of updating estate plans, says Barron’s in the article “The Coronavirus Has Americans Scrambling to Set Their Estate Plans. Here Are Some Key Things to Know.” This is the case at Galligan & Manning where we have been meeting with our clients by phone or video conference and arranging for documents to be executed in the safety of our clients’ homes.

People are worried, and they are in a hurry too.

Here are a few tips:

Everyone should have three basic documents: a last will or revocable living trust, a financial durable power of attorney, and a medical power of attorney. These documents will allow assets to be distributed, give another person the ability to make financial decisions, if you are too sick to do so, and  allow another person to talk to medical professionals and make medical desisions on your behalf . These same documents are also a good idea for any young adults in the family, anyone older than 18 in Texas.

However, there’s more. In addition to these basic documents, everyone needs to review their beneficiary designations on assets that include bank accounts, IRAs, annuities, insurance policies and any other assets. If family situations have changed, these may be out of date.

Also, parents of minor children need to execute documents appointing guardians to care for their minor children in the event the parent is unable to do so.

While young adults may be more worried about the financial impact of the pandemic, seniors and the elderly are concerned about having documents in order. Wealthy people are concerned about the impact that the pandemic may have on estate planning law, and some are engaged in planning to make substantial gifts, in case the current estate and give tax exemptions are lowered.

Specific issues to be discussed with an estate planning attorney:

  • The advantages of certain trusts, which provide an opportunity to direct how assets will be held, invested and distributed before and after death.
  • Financial durable powers of attorney, which appoint an agent to make financial decisions.
  • Medical powers of attorney which let people designate an agent to make health decisions on their behalf
  • HIPAA Releases which allow family members receive health care and medical information from your health care providers.
  • Living wills, which allow people to designate whether to provide life-prolonging treatment, if in a terminal state

To learn more about what you need to consider when updating your estate plan see https://www.galliganmanning.com/estate-planning-life-stages/.

Reference: Barron’s (March 22, 2020) “The Coronavirus Has Americans Scrambling to Set Their Estate Plans. Here Are Some Key Things to Know”

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