If you haven't been following social media, parental discretion advised: Basketball star Lamar Odom remains in a coma at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, Nevada after being found unconscious at the Love Ranch "Cathouse", a brothel about 70 miles outside Las Vegas. Lamar had reportedly been using cocaine and an herbal substance similar to viagra during his weekend stay. The owner of the brothel said the "herbal viagra" could be obtained almost anywhere, and was the equivalent of multiple energy drinks consumed at once. An expert source for US Weekly stated that while it may be considered "herbal," the drug could be deadly if combined with other drugs or alcohol.
While Lamar is a celebrity in his own right as a star Basketball player, he became more widely known to non sports fans when he married reality star Khloe Kardashian. He was frequently featured in their popular tv show "The Kardashians" on E!. While Khloe and Lamar's struggle to get pregnant was widely known among fans, his struggle with drugs was not. After 4 years of marriage, Khloe filed for divorce in December of 2013. The divorce papers remained unsigned, however, until this July. Because of the backlog in Los Angeles Family courts, the divorce has yet to be finalized, and in effect, Khloe and Lamar are still married.
This leads to a legal twist in the Lamar Odom tragedy. Because Khloe is still legally his spouse, she is the one responsible for making medical decisions for him. Each state has an ordered list of "medical surrogates" - i.e. those responsible for making medical decisions on behalf of an individual who has become incapacitated . All fifty states list the spouse as the first in line. This means that even though Khloe and Lamar are within weeks of being divorced, she is still the one who will decide how long he remains on life support - if it comes to that point. She is also the one responsible for making medical decisions on a day to day basis for Lamar. While the specifics of Lamar's condition are not known (outside of the fact that he is in a coma), Khloe is currently at the hospital making decisions for Lamar.
If Lamar had done an Estate Plan - specifically an Advance Healthcare Directive, Khloe may not have been the person making medical decisions on his behalf. The Advance Healthcare Directive is California's name for the Power of Attorney for Healthcare. It allows one to specify their medical wishes should they become incapacitated. Alternatively, it allows them to choose an "agent" to make medical decisions for them. The Advance Healthcare Directive is the medical/healthcare arm of a complete Estate Plan. It is unclear whether Lamar has a trust, will, or power of attorney for finances.
When one researches Lamar Odom's background, it looks like he may have chosen Khloe after all if he had executed an advance healthcare directive. His life seems wrought with tragedy - a mother who died of cancer when he was young, a heroine-addicted father, a child who died of SIDS at 7 months, and most recently, the drug related deaths of two of Lamar's closest friends earlier this summer.
As an Elder Law attorney, this story is a reminder of the importance of estate planning documents. As a person, it is deeply saddening and only reminds me of how blessed I am to have a wonderful family and normal, non celebrity existence.
If you have questions about Estate Planning, Advance Healthcare Directives, Powers of Attorney, or other Elder Law matters, feel free to contact my office in downtown Walnut Creek at 925-322-1763.