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Don’t Leave Room for Interpretation in Your Estate Plan

Dec. 13, 2017

Many people have strong views on the type of care they want or don’t want to receive if get very sick. You can preserve your decisions with a living will which informs medical professionals of your wishes in the event that you cannot express them yourself.

Unfortunately, without this legal document, disputes over your care can arise. Even if you think you have clearly communicated this information in other ways, there could still be room for interpretation if you don’t have a living will or health care proxy. This was the situation facing medical professionals and ethics consultants in Florida recently.

Tattoo Is Not Legally Binding

An intoxicated, unconscious man was admitted to the hospital. Under normal circumstances, hospital workers would take measures to save the man’s life. However, the man had a tattoo on his chest that read, “Do Not Resuscitate.”

Doctors felt compelled to ignore the tattoo and save the man’s life, as they could not be sure that the tattoo was an accurate reflection of his wishes. How old was the tattoo? Was the man of sound mind when he decided to get the tattoo?

Because doctors could not answer these questions for sure, they chose to treat the man. However, an ethics consultant advised them to honor the tattoo, arguing that it was a clear statement of the man’s wishes.

Thankfully, the decision was ultimately out of their hands. The man also had completed legal paperwork that confirmed what his tattoo said.

Don’t leave wishes open to interpretation

No one wants to have to make medical decisions for someone else without confidence that they are making the right choice. Considering the permanence of these decisions, a person’s wishes should be documented in a way that is not open for interpretation.

In other words, discussing your wishes with loved ones or even tattooing your end-of-life care plans on your body may not be enough to protect them. This is why it is crucial to have a health care directive as part of a comprehensive estate plan. Doing so can ensure medical workers know your choices and relieve loved ones of having to make painful decisions on your behalf.