The recent death of comedian and TV star Joan Rivers caught a lot of people off guard. Whenever a celebrity dies unexpectedly, we are often left to sort through the aftermath by reading about their estate planning efforts, or lack of them. In Rivers’ case, it appears that Joan Rivers had taken substantial steps to protect both herself and her estate before she died. Further, and even though she led a largely public life, she also appears to have used estate planning tools that allowed her to maintain her privacy.
Joan Rivers’ Death
Joan Rivers died after suffering an unexpected complication that arose from a medical procedure she had been going through in Manhattan. The complication effectively left her comatose, and required her to be placed on life support to sustain her bodily functions.
While it isn’t exactly clear what happened after that, it appears likely that her daughter, Melissa Rivers, had the authority to make medical decisions on her mother’s behalf. This was likely done through the use of a durable medical power of attorney in combination with a living will that Joan Rivers had previously created. The medical power of attorney would have allowed Melissa Rivers to make medical decisions for her mother, and could have led to having Joan Rivers removed from life support in accordance with her wishes.
Of course, we cannot be certain that this is the chain of events that took place because advance medical directives like living wills and health care powers of attorney are not publicly created documents, but Rivers had made public statements bout her wishes in the past.
When you create advance directives, all you have to do is ensure that the document comply with relevant laws. You do not have to submit the documents to a court, nor does the court have to approve them in order for them to become effective.
Joan Rivers apparently left behind an estate worth about $150 million. It appears that she likely left her property to her daughter and her grandson, but again, we cannot be certain of this. This is because it appears that Rivers used one or more trusts to transfer inheritances outside of probate. If Rivers used trusts to transfer inheritances, those transfers would remain private and out of the public eye.
Further, Joan Rivers was a well-known advocate for animal rights, and had four dogs she cared for very much. It appears that she also provided for the care of her animals by creating a pet trust. Like other trust, the terms of the pet trust will remain private, but the trust likely protected the needs of her beloved dogs in the event of her death.
Parman & Easterday