What You Should Know About Organ Donation

When planning your estate, spend some time thinking about whether you want to donate your remains to help another individual or to further medical research. Putting that intent in writing can be a great help to the loved ones you leave behind.

If you're interested in donating your organs after death: Laws that govern donation vary from state to state. In most states, you can designate your status as a potential organ donor on your driver's license or receive a separate identification card from the local Department of Motor Vehicles. There are also web-based donor registries available to the public. Visit Donate Life America for more information. The site has state-by-state instructions for those interested in donating.

Carrying a signed donor card is another way to indicate your consent for donation.

Once you have taken these steps, it's still important to communicate your wishes to close family members and friends.

What are the options?

Transplantation: Successful organ and tissue transplant are more common than ever before. Doctors have success using donations to save the lives of people whose organs have been damaged through trauma or disease.

Education or Scientific Research: Perhaps you want to help eradicate a debilitating disease or medical condition. Or maybe you believe that medical students should have the opportunity to study and learn from a body with the conditions you possess. If so, you may want to donate your entire body for research and instruction.

Most medical schools need such donations. These institutions do not accept bodies from which organs have been removed. Each institution has other specific criteria that it uses to determine whether a donation can be accepted.

After the medical school has used a donated body for study or instruction, it will generally cremate and bury, or scatter, the ashes in a specified plot. However, the remains can be returned to family members for burial - usually within a year or two. An attorney can help draft a document that specifies your intentions in this area.

While it's legally possible for family members to approve an organ donation or a full body donation for a deceased relative, putting your wishes in writing can make the process much easier. If your relatives are unsure about your wishes, or one relative wants to consult with other relatives, the decision may take too long for an organ to still be viable. Time is of the essence!

Conversely, if you don't want your organs used for donation, or you only want certain organs made available, you should also put those instructions in writing.

Your estate planning adviser can help inform you on how to make your wishes known to family members and the medical professionals who might someday implement your intentions.

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