We have the option to leave behind more than our personal assets upon death. In fact, you could actually give new life to others through the donation of healthy organs or tissue. This provides an opportunity to broaden your legacy beyond your family and immediate friends, potentially impacting the health and happiness of a host of thankful strangers. Here’s how you can make a difference through organ and tissue donation.
Inside the numbers
There are some 107,000 men, women and children on the national waiting list for a transplant. A new person joins the list every nine minutes, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. Some 39,000 transplants were performed in 2020, but a projected 17 people still die every day while awaiting a new organ. Kidneys are the most critically needed, followed (in order) by the liver, heart, lung and other organs. Eye and other tissue donations are also critically important to the well being of others.
Who is eligible?
All legal citizens of the United States may donate organs at the time of their death (and, in some cases, during their respective lifetimes, as well). Certain diseases and conditions may disqualify otherwise eligible donors, including cancer, HIV or other systemic infections. At the same time, however, organs that are unaffected by these issues could still be accepted.
Talk it over
Like most end-of-life decisions, deciding to donate your organs upon death is a deeply personal choice. Still, it’s best to have a frank discussion about it with your friends and family, so that they’ll be aware of your wishes. These talks may even convince them to become an organ donor, as well — especially if you tell them that every donor can save as many as eight people, while enhancing the lives of more than 75 others.
How to register
A 2019 survey of organ donation attitudes and practices found that 90% of Americas support donations, but just 60% were actually signed up. The process couldn’t be any easier. From home, visit the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration website and fill out a simple form. If you’d prefer to go through this process in person, representatives are available at any local Department of Motor Vehicles.
Taking an Inventory
Over time, we all end up collecting things. Some are cherished heirlooms, while others are simply personal mementos. Some items might be intended to be part of an inheritance, while others are to be donated. A will delineates where it all goes. But first, someone has to find it all. That’s why creating an inventory of your belongings is so important.
These inventories help ensure that your will can be quickly executed. But the list also helps you formulate an idea of the estate’s overall worth. Household staples like furniture, jewelry, televisions and other expensive items will immediately come to mind. But it’s best to go room to room, making a detailed list of everything and its estimated worth. Most people remember to catalog the car, but don’t forget other outdoor items like power tools and lawn equipment.
An appraisal may be needed for certain collectibles; there may be a hidden treasure inside your home. You typically should only list belongings that are valued at more than $100, but this itemizing process can also reveal a list of more personal things that might make for a meaningful gift to loved ones. All of those should be listed, no matter their value.
Now that you’ve cataloged all the belongings inside your home, itemize all non-physical assets. List all bank accounts, whether held jointly or separately, as well as 401(k) plans, life-insurance policies, IRAs, stocks and bonds, and any insurance policies. (That should include homeowners, auto and health.) A qualified financial advisor can help you define the worth of these inventoried items.
Dealing with Debt
You’ve defined your assets, now it’s time to account for personal debt. Those responsibilities don’t go away, though they occasionally can be partially forgiven. List any outstanding bills, including mortgages or car notes, credit cards and medical bills. Non-married family members don’t have to pay these debts with their own money, but their deceased relative’s estate may be liquidated to meet the obligations. An executor manages that process. Spouses can be held personally responsible for co-signed obligations, or if they live in community-property states. Any leftover bills after estate finances have been depleted usually go unpaid.