Using Your Living Will for Organ Donation Preferences

Most people know that you can use a living will to specify what life-sustaining measures you wish to be taken or withheld if you become brain-dead or permanently incapacitated. But did you know you can also use a living will to convey your preferences regarding organ donations?

A living will is an optimal way to ensure your organ donation preferences are carried out effectively, since organs must be harvested quickly after death in order for them to be viable for transplants. There are other methods of indicating your preferences, such as enrolling with an organ donation registry like Donate Life Arizona or checking the organ-donor option on your driver’s license. However, a living will is the most reliable way to convey which organs you want to donate and how you wish them to be used.

Importantly, the living will can direct that you be kept on life-sustaining treatment until the organ harvesting is complete. This helps avoid confusion among family members and healthcare proxies who must give permission for organ removal to occur. Similarly, a living will can be used to donate your body to a medical school or other research facility for scientific study.

A last will and testament was once used to give instructions for burial or cremation of your remains. But the reality is that such decisions must be made quickly, without waiting for probate of the will. As such, these instructions should be given separately in what is sometimes called a final-arrangements document. It can include your preferences for a funeral or memorial service, a cemetery or mausoleum and a tombstone or commemorative plaque. Normally, the final-arrangements document names a person to be in charge of these matters. Otherwise, under Arizona law, the default duty of burying or disposing of the remains is granted statutorily — first to the surviving spouse, then to adult children, then to the deceased’s parents, siblings and other relatives.

A skilled estate planning attorney can help you draft a living will and a final-arrangements document that together express your desires regarding organ donation, body donation, funeral and burial or cremation. Other documents can also be prepared to address future contingencies, such as a power of attorney for handling your financial affairs or healthcare decisions if you become disabled.

The Law Firm of Joseph M. Udall, PLC in Mesa, Arizona can provide you with assistance in drafting a living will and other advance directives. For a free consultation, call us at 480-500-1866 or contact us online. Saturday and evening appointments are available.