As estate planning attorneys we help our clients plan ahead. We help them create the documents and take the legal action they need to protect themselves and those they love. We help them talk through painful possibilities, and support them as they make difficult decisions. We work to ensure that our clients and their families will be prepared for any eventuality—but deep down we hope that they will never really need to make use of some of these documents and plans.
One of the situations that estate planners (or any compassionate advisor) dreads is one that is happening right now in Minnesota. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune the family and friends of 85 year old Al Barnes are struggling to make a difficult decision about his end-of-life care—a decision made no easier by the fact that not all family members (or Mr. Barnes doctors and health care providers) can agree on the next course of action.
“Numerous doctors have assessed Barnes in the past year, and agree on his prognosis. According to court records, Barnes suffers from a level of dementia so profound that doctors believe it is pointless to treat his kidney failure and respiratory failure.” But this isn’t the whole story. Al Barnes’ wife Lana Barnes believes that “her husband suffers from chronic Lyme disease, and that antibiotic treatment of the tick-borne bacterial infection would reverse his dementia — and necessitate treatment for his other conditions as well.”
Mr. Barnes does have a Health Care Directive which lists his wife Lana as his agent, but it apparently goes no further than that, giving no specific instructions or information about what his wishes for end-of-life care would be. And herein lies the dispute. “A Methodist Hospital doctor wants to take decisionmaking rights from [Mrs. Barnes] because he believes she is demanding hopeless and painful treatments. The 56-year-old wife is accusing the doctor and others of misdiagnosis that has left Barnes substantially — but not irreversibly — incapacitated.”
The Minneapolis Probate Courts temporarily took away Mrs. Barnes’ authority over her husband’s care earlier this month after the disagreements between wife and doctors came to a head. “Lana and doctors from Methodist Hospital [are] due to resume arguments over his medical care Wednesday in Hennepin County Probate Court… After Wednesday’s hearing, a judge will decide whether Lana Barnes remains in charge.”
This is exactly the kind of situation we hope to help our clients avoid by encouraging a little bit of forethought, conversations between family members and loved ones, and by preparing a thorough, decisive, and well-thought-out health care directive.