The dramatic increase in hospitalizations due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) has many unanticipated complications. Family disagreements about medical treatment for a loved one are not unusual. For some families, differences among family members about decisions made under a health care directive can turn into an outright dispute. What can a family do to resolve these types of disagreements?
Ultimately, Minnesota courts have authority over health care directives. A lawyer experienced in litigation involving health care directives and powers of attorney can provide help in resolving the issues that underlie this type of dispute. Similar family issues also arise in the context of a guardianship or conservatorship. In all cases, family litigation should be a last resort.
The Dave Burns Law Office shares all the concerns of families and individuals as we navigate through the unprecedented challenges presented by Covid-19. Attorney Dave Burns continues to help existing and new clients, as well as referring attorneys. If you need assistance with any matter within the scope of our services, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Burns by phone or email.
In Minnesota, health care directives are governed by a specific state law. A health care directive includes the designation of a health care agent. A directive may also provide instructions to the agent concerning the treatment wishes, including end-of-life care, of the person executing the directive.
The provisions of a health care directive become important if the person who executed the directive becomes incapacitated. At that point, the health care directive authorizes the health care agent to make medical decisions for the patient and implement the provisions of the health care directive.
There are many different ways in which family disagreements over implementation of a health care directive can occur. For example, family members may question the validity or execution of the health care directive, conduct or decisions of the health care agent, or even prior revocation of the directive.
Under the statute governing health care directives, Minnesota courts have authority to declare a directive unenforceable if the judge finds by clear and convincing evidence that the directive was executed under coercion or fraudulent inducement, or that it is not legally sufficient under specific sections of the law. Under the statute, one litigation option for a health care directive is to bring a declaratory judgment action to invalidate the health care directive. Another approach could be to petition the court for guardianship of the person. Under certain circumstances, an appointed guardian could obtain a court order revoking the health care directive and make medical decisions for the incapacitated person under the guardianship.
In many cases, an individual executes a durable power of attorney at the same time as a health care directive. In cases where there also is a durable power of attorney, there may be an option may be to proceed in a court action against an agent acting under the power of attorney. If the agent violates any of the duties imposed on an attorney-at-fact under Minnesota law, a court has authority to remedy the violations.
Under state law, specific interested persons may file a lawsuit to compel an accounting from the agent or petition the court for the authority under a conservatorship to initiate a lawsuit against the agent. Interested persons include immediate family members. Often, power of attorney litigation results from a disagreement among family members over actions taken after a loved one becomes incapacitated. Disputes involving guardianship or conservatorship issues arise under similar circumstances.
Litigation among family members involves an emotional component that makes it different from other litigation. Any family lawsuit can cause permanent damage to relationships, tearing a family apart. The dispute frequently evolves to include the entire extended family, going far beyond just the parties themselves.
When you sense that there may be a family dispute over implementation of a loved one’s health care directive or power of attorney, try to concentrate on the welfare, well-being, and known wishes of your loved one. That focus may help you find ways to bring the family together. By redirecting attention to the family member in need of care, individuals may be able to resolve differences and work together for the benefit of their loved one.
If that effort fails, you should consider talking with a litigation attorney experienced in issues relating to powers of attorney and health care directives. Your attorney can explain the legal principles involved in challenging the document or the agent’s actions. If there are legal options to pursue, you can then make an informed decision about the best way to proceed.
A knowledgeable lawyer also can provide assistance in resolving the differences among the family members, whether to avoid litigation completely or settle a dispute after an action is initiated. Sometimes, intervention by an outside party facilitates resolution of issues, when family members are unable to settle a disagreement by themselves.
Potential family litigation requires very serious thought. Some of the key considerations are discussed in a previous blog post about family estate litigation. They are equally applicable to litigation involving powers of attorney or health care directives. The post is titled, 5 Things to Consider Before Suing a Family Member Over an Estate Dispute.
My practice at the Dave Burns Law Office includes litigation matters involving family disputes over health care directives, powers of attorney, guardianships, and conservatorships. I treat these matters with the sensitivity they require, while providing strong and capable representation for my clients.
I concentrate my practice on the Twin Cities metro area. If you would like to discuss a situation involving a matter that may involve legal issues relating to a health care directive or power of attorney, please contact me at (612) 677-8351 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome inquiries from clients and referring attorneys throughout the State of Minnesota.
The Dave Burns Law Office hopes you find this article helpful. But please do not rely on it as legal advice. The law changes regularly and the outcome of any legal matter depends on its unique circumstances. View full disclaimer