The Last Will of Joan Rivers

joan rivers, estate planning, pet trusts, wills and trusts, new jersey

The Last Will of Joan Rivers

Comedy legend and TV personality Joan Rivers once told TIME Magazine, ““I ain’t afraid of death. I’m in show business, I’ve died a million times.” Sadly, the media icon passed away on September 4, 2014 while undergoing a routine endoscopy. The procedure, which involves an analysis of the throat while the patient is anesthetized, was carried out by two experienced physicians.

What ultimately led to the media icon’s death was a spur-of-the-moment decision by the operating doctors to perform a biopsy on a polyp-growth in Rivers’ throat. Many in the medical world have explained that surgery, especially on an elderly patient, should be performed in a hospital, not an out-patient care center.

 Medical malpractice suspicions aside, the following valuable estate planning lessons can be learned from the life and death of Joan Rivers:

· All surgeries have risks — Any type of surgery is invasive. Regardless of how young or old you may be, mistakes and unpredictable complications can arise. Remember, the procedure that ultimately claimed Rivers’ life was scheduled and routine. Joan drafted and signed her will at the Surrogate’s Court in New York on Nov. 16, 2011.

·  Power of attorney for health care makes tough decisions easier on loved ones — Prior to Rivers’ death she had a vital legal document in place: a power of attorney for healthcare. This document gave Melissa Rivers, Joan’s daughter, the power to make important decisions regarding her mother’s care if she became incapacitated or disabled. Eventually, with a power of attorney in place, Melissa made the decision to remove her mother from life support.

· You can ensure pets, as well as heirs, are taken care of after you are gone — Over the course of her more than half a century career, Joan Rivers amassed a fortune of $150 million. In her estate plan, Rivers’ left all her possessions to her daughter Melissa, her grandson Cooper and her four dogs. A pet trust ensures that your dog, cat, parakeet or other domestic animal is taken care of after you are gone.  An animal lover her whole life, Rivers’ once jested that her dogs were better than a husband, “Because they didn’t leave the toilet seat up”.

· Don’t forget charities — In her life, Joan Rivers supported many charities. Yet she also made sure that the charities she supported in life (Guide Dogs for the Blind, Jewish Guild Healthcare, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to name a few) received contributions after her death.

· Specify how your remains should be handled — You may think it a bit morbid to ponder your demise and how your remains should be laid to rest. However, whether you would like to be cremated or buried, it is important that you leave explicit instructions for your heirs. In keeping with the late comedienne’s wishes, Joan Rivers’ body was cremated in North Bergen, New Jersey.

By drafting a comprehensive estate plan, Joan Rivers ensured that her family and her dogs were well taken care of after her death. If you are thinking about setting up your own estate plan, now is the time to act. For assistance with a will contest or estate planning matter in North or Central New Jersey, contact estate planning attorney Alec Borenstein, Esq., at or call 908-­236­-6457 at your convenience.

What Do You Want to Happen to Your Body after Death?

burial plan, estate planning, new jersey, burial, cremation

What Do You Want to Happen to Your Body after Death?

Depending on your age and health, you may thinking about what you would like to happen to your remains after you die.  Yet before you pen lengthy instructions to your heirs about your glorious Viking funeral, you should contact an attorney to ensure that your desired burial plan is legal.

When it comes to burial and cremation, state and federal laws must be obeyed. Imagine if, after you die, your heirs discover that your wishes for your final resting place are illegal.  What will they do?  More importantly, what will happen to your body?  Will your remains be put to rest in a manner contrary to your moral or religious beliefs?


Embalming is not a necessary step in the burial process.  Today, bodies can be refrigerated prior to burial.  However, the state of New Jersey requires bodies be buried, cremated, embalmed or refrigerated within 48 hours after death or if they are to cross state lines.  Also, some funeral homes require embalming for a public viewing.

Additionally, you are not required to be buried in a casket.  You may be placed in the ground in an ornate $20,000 coffin or nothing at all.  However, you should check with the cemetery where you intend to be buried to ensure that they do not require some type of container.

Further, it is important to understand that your non-cremated remains must be buried on cemetery property — not private land.  In order for your remains to be buried on private land, there would have to be a private cemetery located on the land.  For example, if you owned a historical estate with an existing approved family cemetery plot, you would be able to have your remains buried there.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, for burials at sea, non-cremated remains must be disposed of at least 3 nautical miles from land and in water at least 600 feet deep.  Certain areas, including east central Florida, the Dry Tortugas, Florida and west of Pensacola, Florida to the Mississippi River Delta, require water at least 1,800 feet deep.


Cremation is the process of exposing the human body to temperatures of 1800 – 2000 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more.  A casket is not required for the cremation process — all that’s required is an alternative container which may be made of wood or cardboard.

Ashes may be kept at home, or scattered on your own property or that of another (whom you have permission from).  For scattering of ashes in lakes and rivers, you must apply for a local or state permit (depending on location).

In regards to scattering ashes at sea, the EPA explains that cremated remains shall be buried in or on ocean waters without regard to the depth limitations specified for non-cremated remains as long as the burial takes place at least 3 nautical miles from land.

Donate your body to science

In accordance with the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act of 1968, if you wish to donate part, or all of your body to science, you may do so, provided you are a New Jersey resident over the age of 18.

To speak to an experienced estate planning attorney about your estate plan and how you would like your remains handled after death, Alec Borenstein, Esq., at or call 908­-236­-6457. We have offices in Union County, Hunterdon County, Brooklyn, and we even make housecalls!

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