STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re: Guardianship of
Jean A. Wells, Ward.
Filed June 26, 2007
Washington County District Court
File No. P3-05-6409
Daniel Oberdorfer, Chad M. Roggeman, Leonard, Street &
Philip J. Young, Nancy M. Kiskis, Moss & Barnett, 4800 Wells Fargo Center, 90 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent Diane L. Vandermolen)
Richard C. Ilkka,
Tamara J. Gerten, Gerten & Van Valkenburg, P.A., 303 East Little Canada Road, St. Paul, MN 55117 (for respondent Frank Sutherland)
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Dietzen, Judge; and Worke, Judge.
S Y L L A B U S
The presumption in Minn. Stat. § 145C.10(c) that, absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, a health care agent acts in good faith when acting pursuant to a health care directive, does not limit the discretion of the district court to decline to appoint the person nominated in the health care directive as guardian, if the court determines under Minn. Stat. § 524.5-309 that appointment of another is in the best interests of the ward.
O P I N I O N
Appellant Nancy J. Frey challenges the district court’s denial of her petition for appointment as her mother’s guardian and its order appointing a third-party guardian. We affirm.
early 2005, Wallace and Jean Wells made plans for their estate and health
care. As part of that process, Jean
Wells executed, among other things, a health care directive naming one of her
daughters, Nancy Frey, as her health care agent and her other daughter, Diane
Vandermolen, as the alternate. The
directive granted the health care agent and “any person named as successor or
alternative health care agent, whether or not then acting as [Wells’s]
principal health care agent” the authority to access information pertaining to
her medical treatment. Frey lives in
Wells currently suffers from dementia as a result of Alzheimer’s disease. After Wallace Wells’s death in August 2005,
Jean Wells was admitted to the memory-care unit of a long-term care facility in
At the hearing, the only issue was the appointment of a guardian. Wells was represented by a court-appointed attorney, but not a guardian ad litem. The health care directive was admitted, and a long-time friend of the family testified that Frey and Vandermolen’s parents had looked to Frey to take care of their affairs. Vandermolen acknowledged that Frey was qualified to serve as a guardian for their mother, but expressed concerns that Frey had not shared information about their mother’s treatment and had excluded Vandermolen from participation in their mother’s health care. Citing the conflict between Frey and Vandermolen, Wells’s court-appointed attorney recommended that an unrelated third-party, Frank Sutherland, be appointed as guardian.
In March 2006, the district court denied Frey’s petition and appointed Frank Sutherland/Sutherland Fiduciary, Inc. as guardian. The district court found that the health care directive contemplated that Vandermolen should have access to her mother’s health care information and records and that Frey had “willfully and intentionally” obstructed Vandermolen’s efforts to participate in health care decisions and obtain information about her mother’s care. The district court found that animosity between the sisters “is long-standing and is not likely to dissipate in the indefinite future” and that the conflict “is not in the best interests of [Wells] and has the potential to cause [Wells] aggravation and anxiety should it escalate.”
Frey then brought a motion for amended findings or new trial, which was denied on all issues relevant to this appeal. This appeal followed.
1. When a ward has a health care directive naming a health care agent, what showing is necessary under the Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Act, Minn. Stat. § 524.5-309 (2006), to appoint a third-party guardian?
2. Did the district court err in concluding that it was not in the ward’s best interests to appoint the health care agent as guardian?
argues that the district court erred in its application of Minn. Stat.
§ 524.5-309 (2006) and its denial of her petition for appointment as her
mother’s guardian. The appointment of a
guardian is generally within the discretion of the district court. In re
Guardianship of Kowalski, 478 N.W.2d 790, 792 (
Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Act (Guardianship Act) provides
that when appointing a guardian, the court “shall consider persons otherwise
qualified” in the order of priority established by the statute.
(1) a guardian, other than a temporary or emergency guardian, currently acting for the respondent in this state or elsewhere;
(2) an agent appointed by the respondent under a health care directive pursuant to chapter 145C; . . .
(4) an adult child of the respondent.
Frey argues that she meets the definition of the second and fourth priorities under the statute and, therefore, is entitled to appointment. Essentially, appellant argues that her appointment should be automatic. We disagree.
Health Care Directives Act (Health Care Act) provides that “the appointment of the
health care agent in a health care directive is considered a nomination of a
guardian for purposes of [the Guardianship Act].”
Frey next argues that the Health Care Act limits the discretion of the district court to decline appointment of a person with a higher priority if doing so is not in the ward’s best interests. Specifically, Frey contends that Minn. Stat. § 145C.10(c) (2006) creates a presumption in her favor, absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. Vandermolen argues that the presumption in Minn. Stat. § 145C.10(c) is not applicable and does not limit the court’s discretion under Minn. Stat. § 524.5-309.
statutes according to their plain and ordinary meaning.
Health Care Act provides that the health care agent is “presumed to be acting
in good faith, absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.”
on our reading of the statute, we conclude that the presumption in Minn. Stat.
§ 145C.10(c) does not apply to the appointment of a guardian under Minn.
Stat. § 524.5-309 and does not limit the discretion of the district court
to decline appointment of a person nominated in the health care directive. First, the presumption in the Health Care Act
that a health care agent, when making health care decisions, is acting in good
faith addresses a wholly different question than whether the health care
agent’s appointment as guardian would be in the ward’s best interests. Second,
Frey argues that
the district court abused its discretion in not appointing her as guardian and
finding that her mother’s best interests required appointment of a neutral
third-party as guardian. The
“appointment of a guardian is uniquely within the discretion of the appointing
court,” and we will not interfere with the exercise of that discretion except
in the case of a clear abuse of discretion.
Kowalski, 478 N.W.2d at
792. A reviewing court is limited to
determining whether the district court’s findings are clearly erroneous, giving
due regard to the district court’s determinations regarding witness
Frey argues that the district court failed to explain its reasoning, which is reversible error under Lundgaard, 453 N.W.2d at 61. But the court expressly stated that the conflict between Frey and Vandermolen was not in Wells’s best interests, and found that the conflict “has the potential to cause [Wells] aggravation and anxiety should it escalate.” Specifically, the court found that Frey and Vandermolen had involved the long-term-care-facility staff and law enforcement in their disputes over their mother’s care and that Frey had failed to provide information to Vandermolen about her mother’s care. Thus, Frey’s assertion that the court did not explain its reasoning is unfounded.
Frey next argues that the conflict with her sister does not support a finding that her appointment would not be in her mother’s best interests because the conflict—identified by the court as “longstanding”—existed at the time her mother nominated her to be her guardian and that her mother appointed her despite the conflict.
guardianship statute requires the court to consider both the ward’s expressed
preferences and the ward’s best interests.
Frey suggests that
the harm the court identified is not severe enough to support a conclusion that
her appointment is not in her mother’s best interests and relies on Kowalski. In Kowalski,
the ward nominated her lesbian partner as her guardian, but her parents
threatened to sever all ties with their daughter if the partner was
appointed. 478 N.W.2d at 794. The district court, citing the conflict
between the parties, appointed a third-party guardian rather than the partner
argues that family conflict is not sufficient, and that there must be specific
evidence of tangible harm to the ward. She
relies on Edwards and Schmidt to support her argument. We disagree.
In Edwards, we affirmed the
district court order appointing a third party, concluding that the best
interest of the ward was paramount and that the court properly exercised its
discretion. We stated, “[t]he children
cannot agree upon who should care for their aged father. Thus, it is
appropriate that a third party be charged with that responsibility.” Edwards, 390 N.W.2d at 305 (citing In re Guardianship of Strom, 205
Therefore, because the court’s conclusion that Frey’s appointment is not in the best interests of the ward is supported by the evidence and not clearly erroneous, the district court did not abuse its discretion by declining to appoint Frey as Wells’s guardian.
D E C I S I O N
Minn. Stat. § 524.5-309 does not require a heightened standard of proof in
guardianship proceedings, a party opposing appointment of a person with
priority under the Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Act must
establish by a preponderance of the evidence that appointment is not in the
best interests of the ward. The district
court’s finding that appointment of Frey was not in the best interests of the
ward was not clearly erroneous and is supported by the record. Accordingly, we affirm the appointment of a third-party guardian.
 In its order denying Frey’s motion for amended findings or a new trial, the district court granted a hearing on the third-party’s qualifications as guardian. Thus, the district court has retained jurisdiction over the issue of the third party’s qualifications, and, therefore, we do not reach that issue.
The Uniform Guardianship and Protective
Proceedings Act has been adopted by