A choice and a concern that many of our clients have is whether or not to donate their organs, and the topic is one we encourage our clients to research and to discuss with their loved ones.  Although the Estate Planning Binder we create for our clients contains documents and instructions for many end-of-life decisions (such as burial or cremation preferences, funeral instructions and naming agents to handle these affairs), if no one retrieves the binder from the safe or a safety deposit box (not a recommended storage place, by the way) or finds it until after the funeral, some of these decisions will be lost.  It is not cost effective to un-bury Uncle Joe when it is later discovered he wanted to be cremated and scattered at his favorite spot in the country, or to or to undo cremation if he requested his remains be buried (okay, so you can’t really “undo” cremation, but the ashes can be buried in a burial plot). An even more urgent time constraint exists with organ donation.  The decision to donate must be made while the organs are viable, and time does not allow for much contemplation or long discussions amongst family members.

Through our many conversations with clients, we have found that there seems to be a stigma and much misinformation attached to the idea of organ donation.  Clients also seem to have similar questions regarding the process of donating one’s organs.  At the end of this post is a website for Donate Life Texas, which addresses many frequently asked questions and gives a detailed description of the process.  If you are contemplating organ donation, we suggest you visit the website to find out more.  For our readers, we wanted to post a few answers to the questions we hear most frequently (information comes from both the Donate Life Texas website and personal knowledge):

If I register to donate my organs, what is the process when it comes time to donate?

The process is automatic.  When someone dies under circumstances that allow for donation, and he or she dies in a hospital, the hospital contacts Donate Life Texas. If the deceased is registered, Donate Life Texas will visit with family at the hospital. If a potential donor is not registered, then the family must make the decision whether to authorize donation and then the Donate Life Texas will be called in and visit with the family.  No matter where a person dies, the hospital contacts its Donate Life agency and that agency contacts the home state of the patient to search the state registry. All hospitals in the US have a Donate Life agency with which they partner.

Does the organ donation affect my wish to be buried?

Donate Life Texas will communicate with a donor’s family regarding the timing of organ recovery to help meet the needs involving a funeral. (If the death involves the county medical examiner, it may take a bit longer for the body to be released.) Following the organ/tissue donation procedure, the body is still intact and is transported to the funeral home of the family’s choice for cremation or burial, as would have been the case had donation not been an option. Organ donation does not interfere with an open-casket funeral.  Whole body or willed body donation is obviously different.

Will my family bear the cost of surgery and transporting organs or will they receive any payment for the donation?

The donor family is never billed for expenses related to donation. Also, the donor family is not paid for any donations, as this would be a violation of federal and state laws.

For more information about organ donation, visit Donate Life Texas’ website at www.donatelifetexas.org.  There is form available to download on the website to register as an organ donor.  You can also stop by our office for a form or register at the DPS office when renewing your driver’s license.  The organ donation form allows you to make a whole body donation or to limit the donation to specific organs.  The form is free and the donation is recorded on your license.