Joan Rivers' Death Illustrates Your Need for Medical Power of Attorney and a Living Will


Comedian Joan Rivers was 81 at the time of her death last week. She had been described as vibrant, energetic, and in good health. In fact, her problems began rather unexpectedly after a routine minor surgical procedure at a Manhattan medical clinic. Rivers suffered respiratory and cardiac arrest, requiring her to be transferred to Mount Sinai Hospital where she was in a medically induced coma until shortly before her death on September 4.

Rivers had been a widow since 1987, leaving her only daughter Melissa in charge of making the necessary medical decisions relating to her mother’s care. Melissa was said to have medical power of attorney for her mother.

When discussing power of attorney, most of us concern ourselves with financial power of attorney. However, choosing someone to have medical power of attorney is just as important. As Joan Rivers’ death illustrates, it’s impossible to predict when a situation will occur that will require someone to step in and make decisions on your behalf.

When you choose someone to have medical power of attorney, you should also create a living will. A living will is a document that explains how you feel about different medical procedures, including blood transfusions, CPR, dialysis, tube feeding, and the use of a respirator if you are unable to breathe on your own. It also discusses special requests for comfort care, such as being allowed to die at home while avoiding any invasive tests or treatments, and if you want your organs to be donated upon your death.

Without medical power of attorney and a living will, the court will appoint a conservator to act on your behalf. This is often your closest relative, who may or may not be aware of your wishes regarding your medical care. Even if you have discussed your wishes previously, there’s also the possibility that your relative would not have the presence of mind to abide by your requests. Many people find it very difficult to allow a loved one to pass on, even if they logically understand that any medical treatments are only prolonging the inevitable.

How Can We Help?

Consulting an experienced estate planning attorney is the best way to ensure that you’ll be prepared no matter what the future holds. If you are in need of legal representation relating to an estate planning issue, please call our office at (626) 683-8113 or email us at