Lessons Learned from Casey Kasem’s Legacy

Q. In May, you wrote about how Casey Kasem’s family was at odds over his care. My family is in a similar situation, but it is not quite as hostile. I don’t always agree with my stepchildren and my husband is in the early stages of dementia. At this point, he is still competent and can still make decisions and do most things for himself – his primary problem is he just forgets a lot of things. I would like him to stay at home with me for as long as possible. However, his children (from his prior marriage) want to move him to an assisted living facility closer to them in the near future, because they are afraid I won’t be able to take care of him since I’m also getting older. What are some lessons we can take away from the Kasem situation, so our situation doesn’t get as contentious as theirs was?

A. Long-time radio personality and “America’s Top 40” superstar Casey Kasem passed away last month at 82. He left Americans with wonderful memories. However, one of his major parting contributions was not related to his radio legacy. It was to remind us of the importance of end-of-life decision-making and proper planning to ensure that wishes are met and families aren’t faced with tough decisions with which they may not agree.

As you may recall from our previous article, before Casey Kasem passed away, his daughter, Kerri Kasem, and his wife, Jean, were in the middle of a court battle regarding his medical care. In his final days, Jean wanted to continue medical care; Kerri and her two siblings from his prior marriage had concluded that care was pointless and should be discontinued.

Mr. Kasem’s debilitating dementia was at a point where he couldn’t eat on his own and his body was rejecting food. Kerri and her siblings didn’t want to see their father suffer any longer, but Jean felt that the stepchildren were trying to hasten their father’s death to expedite distribution of $2 million that would be split between them. Mr. Kasem’s children prevailed in the California courts based on a document Mr. Kasem had signed in 2007. Life support was accordingly withdrawn and Casey Kasem died shortly thereafter.

You can read more of the details to this story on our blog and on the American Bar Association website.

Incapacity Planning

Two important lessons emerge from the Kasem family’s unfortunate experience:

  • Many people make the mistake of assuming that if something should happen to them, family members will simply step in and figure out what to do. The truth of the matter is that, without proper planning, your family must have you declared legally incompetent by a Judge in order to handle your finances. Achieving this can be time consuming and stressful. Instead, you can rely on an Advance Medical Directive. This document conveys the types of medical procedures that you want or do not want to undergo in the event that you become incapacitated and unable to make such decisions on your own.
  • Without an Advance Medical Directive, in most cases the spouse is considered the primary decision maker for medical choices, with the children being secondary. However, spouses are never automatically legal or financial decision-makers for each other. Without a General Power of Attorney in place that designates someone as the financial decision-maker, family members may fight for the right to make legal and financial decisions. Therefore, it is extremely vital that everyone has a General Power of Attorney in place.

Planning in Advance

The added trauma of family squabbles can cause loved ones undue stress in an already difficult situation. Sitting down with your stepchildren and having the caregiving conversation, while your husband can still voice his wishes, can help to ensure that the issues faced by the Kasem family do not happen to yours. Below are some tips about how to break the ice and what to discuss:

  • Use stories such as Casey Kasem as a way to bring up your husband’s long-term care wishes.
  • Make sure that all family members are involved in the conversation about long-term care and end-of-life wishes of your loved one. Since he is still competent, let your husband weigh in on the decisions.
  • Remember, the conversation goes best when it is approached as a partnership or collaboration for what your husband wants and needs.
  • Explain why certain choices are made and ensure that everyone feels included in the process to avoid future problems before they happen.
  • Have an experienced Elder Law Attorney review all legal, financial, and personal documents, if you already have them in place, or get them done if they have not been done in the past few years.  Ensure that all of your father’s wishes are fully documented and that all documentation is up to date.

To ensure your husband’s wishes are met, it is important to start your planning while his mind is still as sharp as possible and his judgment sound, so you are prepared in advance as his dementia progresses. No guarantees, but at least providing your family with directions may prevent a battle such as the one that occurred between Casey Kasem’s daughter and second wife.

 Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection Planning

Nursing homes in Fairfax, Virginia and the rest of Northern Virginia can cost as much as $198,000 per year, while Fredericksburg, Virginia nursing homes and nursing homes in and the rest of Virginia can cost as much as $105,000 per year. Therefore, it is imperative to plan ahead in the event nursing home care is needed in the future. Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection is the process of protecting assets from having to be spent down in connection with entry into a nursing home, while also helping ensure that you or your loved one get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home.  Our firm is dedicated to helping seniors preserve dignity, quality of life, and financial security. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning, or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, call us at our Virginia Elder Law Fairfax office at 703-691-1888 or at our Virginia Elder Law Fredericksburg office at 540-479-1435 to make an appointment for an introductory consultation.

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