Estate Planning: No Tattoo Necessary, 05-31-2006

We all have wishes we want carried out when we are dead or dying. Perhaps we want to be kept alive as long as possible, no matter what. Perhaps we want to be allowed to pass peacefully. Perhaps we want a family heirloom to go to our son or daughter. But, there’s one thing that’s certain, we’ll be able to rest easier when the end draws near if we’re confident our wishes will be carried out.

Mary Wohlford of Decorah, Iowa, is determined to have her wishes carried out. In fact, at age 80, she had the words “DO NOT RESUSCITATE” tattooed on her chest. While this certainly demonstrates Mary’s desires, it is not legally sufficient to accomplish her goals.

You do not need to tattoo your wishes on your body. In order to make sure your wishes are carried out, you need to sign a Health Care Directive or Living Will. These documents express your wishes regarding end of life care. You can specify the circumstances in which you would like medical care withheld. In order to be valid, it must be signed and witnessed or notarized. While Mary’s expression was unique, it did not meet the formalities required under state law so it was not legally sufficient. You may also consider a Health Care Durable Power of Attorney, which in some states is combined with a Health Care Directive or Living Will. A Health Care Durable Power of Attorney appoints an “agent” for you to make health care decisions when you are unable to make them for yourself. The agent could be given the power to withhold treatment, if you wish. That way someone close to you, who shares your values, could be allowed to make those end of life decisions knowing your wishes.

Just as with end of life health decisions, you need to have a clear expression of where your assets will go. You can use a Will for this purpose, but if you do so your beneficiaries will have to be involved in a probate administration. A Living Trust can also be used to set forth clearly who is to get what, while avoiding the delays and inconveniences of probate. During your lifetime you re-title assets into the name of your trust. A “Pourover” Will is used to name guardians for any minor children or other dependents and send left over assets to the trust. If your Will or Trust reference an external list, you could keep a list for household effects or other tangible personal property. You can keep this list and make modifications to it without the formalities of a Will or Trust. Such a list is typically used to dispose of rings, heirlooms, and other items of substantial emotional value.

There’s no need to schedule a visit to the tattoo parlor! Morris Hall can help you achieve your goals, without enduring the artist’s needle.