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Celebrity Example of Living Will Importance

Posted on: November 11th, 2015
healthcare power of attorneyMid-October media reports of the then comatose former NBA-player Lamar Odom drew attention to his condition, his pending divorce, and the legal powers his soon-to-be-ex-wife Khloe Kardashian has over medical decisions concerning his care. Although the couple signed divorce papers in July, court administration issues delayed processing. Since the couple is still legally married, Kardashian still has authority to make medical decisions on Odom’s behalf. (According to MSNBC, following Odom's hospitalization, Kardashian recently requested a judge "toss the paperwork" for the divorce.)

Divorcing couples might postpone estate planning matters for a number of reasons. Individuals could become overwhelmed from the stress and paperwork of divorce, rebuilding their own lives, or co-parenting, so that an updated will or health care directive takes less priority. However, maintaining an up-to-date estate plan can help to minimize stress and preserve an individual’s wishes should one of the spouses become incapacitated while navigating divorce. 

With the celebrity couple above, Kardashian might not know Odom’s healthcare wishes. A living will could have established clear guidelines for how Odom’s care should be managed under various circumstances. If a living will had been in place, Kardashian, as well as Odom’s health care providers, would have instructions regarding his desires for treatment, life support, and more. An up-to-date estate plan with advance directives appointing a trusted person with power of attorney over medical decisions would have ensured that Odom’s wishes were carried out by an individual who was aware of his most recent wishes regarding healthcare. As of this writing, news reports state that Odom did not have a living will; the existence of a health care power of attorney has not been confirmed. 

While many celebrity deaths have highlighted issues that can result from inadequate estate planning, many other celebrities have successfully implemented estate planning strategies to preserve their legacy and their wishes. Phillip Seymour Hoffman included “culture and values” provisions in his will. The terms included wishes for his children to have regular visits to art and theater-saturated metropolitan areas like New York and San Francisco. Joan Rivers structured her estate plan with a tax strategy in mind. Rivers claimed residency in New York and domicile in California to avoid New York’s severe state estate tax.

By maintaining one’s estate plan and providing clear instructions for one’s desired medical care, one can help to prevent treatment delays and ensure provision of care that aligns with one’s wishes. Couples considering, navigating, or who have just become divorced should meet with an estate planning attorney to address critical documents during each stage. In addition to a living will and powers of attorney, divorcing couples should review beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, insurance policies, and other assets. Beneficiary designations, rather than the terms in a will, direct disposition of many assets, regardless of the time the designations were completed. If not kept current, an individual might unintentionally leave significant assets to a former spouse. 

Our estate planning attorneys provide PlanGuard, a program that includes secure digital document storage and an annual review of all existing estate plan documents—including living wills. Learn more about PlanGuard

By Attorney Samantha Reichle

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