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Joan Rivers' Death: 3 Legal Facts About Life Support

The death of comedian Joan Rivers may provide an unwelcome, but much-needed warning to many that medical emergencies can strike at any time. This can leave family members and medical personnel to make difficult decisions regarding end-of-life care.

Rivers, 81, suffered cardiac and respiratory arrest while undergoing surgery last week. She was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support. But after more than a week, her daughter Melissa made the decision to remove her mother from life support, reports the New York Daily News.

While it may be difficult or unpleasant to discuss, what factors may affect the decision to remove someone from life support? Here are three legal facts that can come into play:

  • Living wills, durable powers of attorney can provide healthcare instructions. There are two legal documents that can be used to enforce a person's wishes to be kept on or off life support in the event of a medical emergency. A living will is one way to document a person's medical preferences in the event that they are incapacitated. A durable power of attorney for healthcare operates in a similar fashion, but does so by designating a family member or trusted friend the power to make medical decisions for the incapacitated individual.
  • Living wills may not be valid in certain situations. Though living wills are legally binding documents, there are certain situations in which they may be disregarded. For example, a woman who is pregnant may not be removed from life support in a number of states, even if her living will includes a do-not-resuscitate order.
  • Somebody has to pay the bills. Although the last thing family members of a loved one on life support are probably thinking about is their finances, failing to pay for the medical care of a person on life support can lead to threats of pulling the plug, if doctors believe the patient has no chance of recovery.

If you have questions on how to ensure your wishes regarding life-sustaining medical aid are followed in the event that you are unable to make the decision yourself, an experienced estate planning attorney can help explain your legal options.

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