When it comes to making an estate plan, specificity can be critical. If you leave vague explanations or instructions, it can be difficult for your loved ones and others to interpret and fulfill your wishes. This could have devastating consequences on the people who may never feel confident in the decisions they make on your behalf.
It is also wise to utilize traditional methods of establishing your wishes so that people know where to look for the information they need. This ensures your plans are legally enforceable. One recent case captures the problems of not taking this route.
How a tattoo led to ethical arguments
A man was admitted to the hospital and in need of life-saving efforts. However, doctors found that he had “Do Not Resuscitate” tattooed on his chest.
Some people found this to be an obvious expression of his wishes. Others felt there was room for interpretation and doubt.
Arguments made on both sides
In this case, the medical professionals wanted to ignore the directions, saying there was no way to be sure that the tattoo was an expression of his wishes. A person could have gotten this type of tattoo long ago or as a bad prank; the letters “DNR” could stand for something else entirely.
However, ethics consultants in this case argued that it was “most reasonable to infer that the tattoo expressed an authentic preference.”
Thankfully, social workers were able to track down legal documentation stating the man’s decision to forego life-saving treatments, much to the relief of everyone involved and unsure of what to do.
Preventing similar controversies
With this story in mind, you may want to revisit any care or medical decisions you make that leave room for doubt or interpretation. And you would be wise to discuss your plans with an attorney who can help you draft essential documentation including living wills.
While you may still decide to establish your wishes in non-traditional ways, you should also have the legal documentation to provide clarity in the event that questions or doubts arise.