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Anne Heche Was an Organ Donor; Are You?

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Organ donor

Actress Anne Heche died last week at 53 after a fiery crash. Her tragic end was a lifeline to others. She was an organ donor.

Heche was declared brain dead on August 12. She was “peacefully taken off life support” on August 14, after a suitable transplant recipient was found.

Her family revealed that it had “long been her choice to donate her organs and she’s being kept on life support to determine if any are viable.”

Organ Donors and Life Support

“Life support” is necessary because after the heart stops, organs are no longer useful. Only the cornea survives death, and it lasts only about six hours. But Organs stay healthy only for a short period of time after removal. According to, only three in 1,000 people die in a way that allows for organ donation after death.

That’s why it is important to make your wishes known while you are alive. Minutes count.

How to Become an Organ Donor

One way to do that is to register. Many register as an organ donor through the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles but you can also register online at the Donate Life AZ Registry.

Another way is to include your wishes and any related instructions in your estate planning documents. A client’s “Advance Directives” often include a provision that expresses their wishes regarding organ donation. Such a provision can and should include specific organs or purposes, if desired.

At Fleming & Curti, we ask every estate planning client whether they would like to be an organ donor. For clients who say yes, we include a sentence in their health care power of attorney. The provision can be general or reflect the client’s specific desires. It might say general organ donation to a living transplant recipient. Or tissue donation to medical research. Or specific tissues or organs, like corneas only.

Another Choice for Arizonans

Arizona residents have another option: whole body donation. The University of Arizona’s Willed Body Donation Program allows for donation of the entire body. The program focuses on medical training at the U of A’s medical school. Afterward, the donor’s body is cremated and the ashes are scattered – not returned to the donor’s family.

It’s free. But if the donation cannot occur (such as if the patient had Covid-19), the donor’s family must make alternative arrangements. Donors must complete the donation forms; no one can make the donation on your behalf. Forms for registering are available at the University of Arizona’s body donation website

State Coordination by OPO

Organ procurement organizations, or OPOs, coordinate organ donation at the state level. In Arizona, the OPO is Donor Network of Arizona.

The Arizona’s OPO coordinates donations with state hospitals in accordance with federal rules. When a person is near death or dies, the hospital tells the OPO. Then the OPO decides whether the patient is a possible donor.

The OPO needs legal consent. They’ll review the state registry. If not, they may check the person’s driver’s license, advance directives or other legal form. If the patient has expressed a desire for donation, that’s legal consent.

Organ Donor Documentation Is Key

Arizona, like all U.S. states, has “first person authorization.” If a person expresses an intent to be an organ donor in an official way during lifetime, it’s legally binding at death.

If the patient is not registered and has no other documentation, the medical team may ask the closest relative to consent.

With permission, the OPO tries to find transplant matches via the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). The OPTN is a national database. It has all patients in the U.S. waiting for a transplant. The system creates a list of patients who match, and the transplant surgeon decides whether to move forward. Most organs go to patients nearby, but some may go to in other parts of the country.

Organ Donors Needed

Still, too many in the United States wait for organs. says that as of February 2021, the number of patients on the national transplant waiting list was more than 107,000. Every nine minutes, another person is added.

Some have advocated that the we have an “opt-out” policy, like countries such as Spain. Everyone would be automatically assumed to be an organ donor unless they say otherwise. We have the opposite.

For Heche’s family, there was no question. Her wishes were clear.

If you are considering becoming an organ donor, think about what you want to accomplish. Do you want to help train new doctors? Provide for a transplant patient? Or assist in medical research that has the potential to affect many people? Once you have decided: Register in advance, include your wishes in estate planning documents, and communicate those  wishes to your loved ones and health care providers.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.