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What Joan Rivers’ Death Teaches Us About End-of-Life Planning

The world lost a marvelous comedic talent when Joan Rivers passed away on September 4, 2014. Rivers was born “Joan Alexandra Molinsky”, the daughter of Russian immigrants in Brooklyn. Her father was a doctor and he reportedly threatened to have Joan committed if she pursued a career in acting. Joan instead worked in fashion and retail after earning undergraduate degrees in anthropology and English.

Joan got serious about acting in the theatre following the end of her first marriage; she then changed her name and started performing comedy. She was on the tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1965, released her first album shortly thereafter, and had her own TV show by 1968. The rest is history. Over the course of her career, Joan Rivers starred in movies, authored books, performed thousands of stand-up shows, hosted and starred in television productions and performed on Broadway. Her perseverance following the suicide of her husband, her battle with eating disorders, and her issues with depression played out on the public stage, as did her death.

Joan Rivers once told a reporter that her estate documents said that she was not to be revived “unless she could do an hour of stand-up”. The document she was likely referring to is an Advance Directive or a Living Will, in which an individual lays out his or her wishes about being kept alive by artificial means. Joan died as a result of a complication that arose during a procedure on her vocal chords after the oxygen supply was cut off to her brain. She was placed on life support as a result of the complication and her family elected to terminate the life-sustaining treatment several days later.

There are a number of “what-if’s” to consider when preparing your estate plan. One of these questions should be “What if I should become incapacitated and cannot communicate: who will make decisions about my medical care and what sort of guidance should I give them about keeping me alive through tube feeding, ventilation, etc.?” Each state has its own rules about which documents control these decisions, so consult with an attorney in your state if you’ve got questions on this end-of-life planning.