Hi there, Bridget Mackay, an estate planning attorney in Petaluma, California. I do wills, trust, and estate planning as well as trust and probate administration. Welcome to my blog today. I want to talk about the lessons and the death of Casey Kasem. Coming from the Casey Kasem era or a part of it, which had stretched a long time, the legendary disc jockey and long-time host of America’s Top 40 died this year, this month in June 15. What was tragic was the legal battle that consumed the last days of his life between the children of his first marriage and his wife of 34 years. What are some of the lessons in this experience? Well, let me take you back to the story.
He had been suffering from a form of dementia called Lewy Body Dementia since 2007. He had planned ahead and in the early stages of his illness created a healthcare directive and named his daughter, Kerri, as his agent. He had also, in that healthcare directive, dictated what his end-of-life decision or wishes would be. Unfortunately by doing so back in 2007, he almost assured the future of family feud that was struck up in 2013 when his health had severely deteriorated. Jean, his wife of 34 years, stopped allowing the children at that time to see him and by the fall of 2013, his children were protesting outside of his home. Ultimately, Kerri, the daughter, went to court to seek a conservatorship over his health. Even though she had authority to act under the healthcare directive, his wife would not allow her to do so.
The feud was essentially over visitation issues and whether his care was in his best interest. Days before the hearing on the conservatorship, his wife removed him from the nursing home he had been in and took him to Seattle. The court in California, over his wife’s objections, awarded the daughter, Kerri, the right to make his health decisions at that time. Eventually his daughter citing the terms in his earlier 2007 healthcare directive approved the termination of his life support when she believed, as was indicated in his directive, that he was devoid of cognitive function and there was no hope of recovery. He died soon after. What went wrong here? Casey Kasem had planned ahead, number one, which is what we always say by creating a healthcare directive and giving end-of-life instructions and naming an agent.
The lesson he failed to appreciate in this situation was the depth of distrust and animosity between his children and his wife. These severe reactions don’t come up on their own without a history. And suffice it to say after he married Jean, his wife, only one year after the divorce from his children’s birth mother. At that time, I think, the potential seed for animosity was created, and it only grew from there. In the ongoing years, there was likely the knowledge by Casey Kasem that everybody didn’t quite get along as they should. And my guess is, as I’ve seen in many cases in my own practice, that this caused some denial and avoidance of communication around what he did. No one knows why he named his daughter, Kerri, over his wife in 2007 as his healthcare agent, but he did it, and the reason we don’t know it is ’cause he didn’t communicate it. So could all of this have been avoided? Maybe. Typical attorney answer, I know.
But he either shouldn’t have named Kerri as his agent or made it very clear to her, his wife, and the other two children about what he wanted and why he was naming Kerri, even if it would cause distress with his wife Jean. Only honest communication and in the appropriate and coupled with the appropriate documents that were planned ahead can avoid conflicts like this in advance. Can they completely eradicate them, probably not. But statistically the likelihood is greatly reduced had he just had that communication and stated his reasons why. Otherwise the animosity that was still there and the distrust really just grows exponentially in these situations. If you find yourself in a similar situation as Casey Kasem and you have named someone other than your wife or who would logically be named in these documents, you need to talk to that person and the person you didn’t name and let them know why. If you need help planning for these documents, always find a qualified estate planning attorney.