Monday, June 23, 2014

Do the Casey Kasem Family Woes Contain a Lesson for the Rest of Us?

The family issues which arose at the end of Casey Kasem's life were played out in the public eye, but unfortunately, this type of situation could  happen in a lot of families.

Let's face it, there are some variables that no one can anticipate.  For instance, most of us expect (hope) that we and our family members will die "when we are older" and that we will have time to plan. We also hope that the people that we sit across from at holiday dinners will pull together in a crisis and not sue each other over our person or property.

But sometimes that is not to be.   In this particular family fight as in all disputes, there were two sides.   And Casey was unable to speak for himself.    He had done some advance planning, and had reportedly signed a  designation of health care guardian in 2007, which appointed one of his daughters and her husband to speak for him if  he were incapacitated.   His wife Jean Kasum, however, claimed that he had signed a 2011 document which invalidated the 2007 document.  (I would venture to guess that a major issue in this case was whether Casey understood what he was signing in 2011, and whether he was subjected to "undue influence" when he signed the document. This is a common inquiry in cases such as these, especially when there is a memory disorder involved). 

Casey's adult children claimed that their step mother was keeping their father from them.  She claimed she was doing what was best for him.  A legal battle ensued, and long story short, the Judge ruled that Jean Kasem was her husband's conservator. The parties were ordered to work out a visitation agreement. 

Casey Kasem's children have begun a nonprofit foundation called "Kasem Cares" which is working to instituted legal rights for adult children in California and elsewhere. 

So, what are the lessons for the rest of us?   Well, the obvious (and upsetting) reminders are these;  some of us will not be able to speak for ourselves at the end of our lives.  Also, that family does not always get along, even when times are tough.  And, even if family does try to get along, different people have different (sincerely held) beliefs about what is right and what is in their loved one's best interest.  Some would say that there is more likely to be trouble in step families that in intact families, but over 20 years of law practice has given me plenty of examples of serious disagreements in intact families as well. 

But here is the "up" side of this.   We all can (and should) do what we can, while we can to minimize the issues that can occur later on.  Even though we can't stop people from disagreeing, or even filing lawsuits, it is still important to give them "something to go on."  It is important to make our wishes known, in writing, in a proper legal form, while we are able to speak for ourselves. And it is important to help our parents help us by guiding us while they are able.

Advance planning does not automatically prevent any disputes from happening, but it is a step in the right direction.  Powers of attorney, Medical Powers of Attorney, Physician's Directives and Designation of Future Guardian are all important documents that can be used along with a Last Will and Testament to help make wishes known. 

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