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  • Writer's pictureSommer Miller, Esq.

“Your Tattoo Won't Hold Up in Court!”: The Importance of a Proper Estate Plan



In recent years, there has been a growing trend of people tattooing their medical wishes on their bodies, including "Do Not Resuscitate" (DNR) directives. While it might seem like a creative and potentially effective way to express one's wishes, relying on a tattoo as a legally binding document is risky and could lead to confusion and misinterpretation. As a Pennsylvania estate planning attorney, I want to address the potential dangers of this trend and emphasize the importance of a properly drafted estate plan.

Tattoos vs. Legal Documents


In a well-known case, doctors faced an ethical dilemma when they discovered a "Do Not Resuscitate" tattoo on a man's chest, complete with his signature. With no other documentation available and no family members present, the medical team was unsure whether to honor the tattoo. Ultimately, an ethics panel advised the doctors to respect the tattoo, and the man passed away the following day. Fortunately, a written DNR was later found, confirming the man's wishes.

However, not all cases end with such clarity. In another instance, a patient's DNR tattoo conflicted with his written directives for life-sustaining treatment. When hospital staff asked him to clarify his wishes, it turned out that he had gotten the tattoo as the result of losing a bet while intoxicated! These contrasting stories highlight the potential risks of relying on tattoos to convey one's medical wishes. While a tattoo might signal the existence of a written order to medical professionals, it is more likely to create confusion and misunderstandings.

The Importance of a Properly Drafted Estate Plan

To ensure your end-of-life wishes are clear, legally enforceable, and respected by medical professionals, a properly drafted estate plan is essential. This includes documents such as:

  1. Medical Power of Attorney: This legal document allows you to designate a trusted individual to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.

  2. Living Will: A living will outlines your medical treatment preferences, including life-sustaining measures and pain management, in the event of a terminal illness or incapacitation.

  3. Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order: A DNR order is a written directive to medical professionals that you do not want to receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or other life-sustaining treatments in the event of cardiac or respiratory arrest.

  4. HIPAA Authorization: This document permits healthcare providers to disclose your medical information to the individuals you designate, ensuring that those you trust have access to vital information when making decisions on your behalf.

  5. Organ Donation and Disposition of Remains: Clearly specifying your wishes for organ donation and the disposition of your remains can alleviate confusion and conflict among family members during an emotionally challenging time.


Consult with an Experienced Pennsylvania Estate Planning Attorney

A tattoo may be a unique and artistic form of self-expression, but it should not replace a comprehensive and legally enforceable estate plan. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you navigate the complexities of end-of-life planning and ensure that your wishes are properly documented and respected.

If you have questions about creating a DNR, Medical Power of Attorney, or other future planning concerns, don't hesitate to reach out to our Pennsylvania estate planning attorneys by clicking the link below to schedule a consultation. We can provide guidance and support to help you make the best choice for your unique situation.



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