One of the most frequent sibling estate fights that I come across is a dispute between siblings over who is to have the ability to make decisions for a parent who is not competent to make decisions for their own personal care. Sometimes the dispute involves third parties such as a stepmother or second spouse. A recent example of this type of dispute involves former Top 40 host Casey Kasem who had successful radio music shows called American Top 40 and Casey’s Top 40 in the 1970’s. I still listen to his recorded shows on satellite radio in my car. Now when I hear his voice on the radio, different images come to mind: they are those of an elderly ill man who has been caught in a tug-a-war between his children from his first marriage and a second spouse. At the time of writing, Casey is 82, suffers from Parkinson’s disease, is unable to speak and has been in and out of hospital. Two of his children from his first marriage Julie and Kerri have taken their stepmother to Court because they were unable to have access to their father or any input into his care.
A previous case was brought by daughter Julie and the case was resolved after she apparently reached a settlement with her stepmother. However, Julie claimed that the agreement was breached and her sister Kerri went back to Court and got a temporary Order making her father’s temporary caregiver and giving her temporary guardianship or conservatorship as it is called in California.
The daughters went to Court because they could not find out where their father was. They had no way communicating with the stepmother, Jean and were unable to obtain information concerning his whereabouts.
Casey was found supposedly on vacation in Washington State three days after a California judge had ordered an investigation into his whereabouts. The local deputy sheriff in Washington State said, “We note he has an affliction, but he was alert, upright, dressed, groomed and cognizant of what was going on. We see a lot of at risk adults and children. This was not anywhere close to being suspicious”.
Apparently, there is a dispute between the children and the stepmother as to the degree of their father’s incapacity. The children claim that their father is suffering from dementia and the stepmother takes a different view.
The police in the Kasem case took the position that there was no indication that he was kidnapped or that he was being held against his will.
The matter will now go back to Court at which point the parties will find out who is going to be awarded full conservatorship (guardianship) of Kasem.
It is heart wrenching to read this story. Kasem’s children have said publicaly that it is not about the money, that their stepmother can take the money, take the house. The children say they will not contest the Will. They simply ask, “Give us our dad back.”
What is really sad about this case is that an innocent elderly person is caught in the middle of a tug-a-war. Clearly, the children have their father’s best interest at heart and I imagine that his wife does as well. However, what really is in the best interest of Casey Kasem?
This dispute may have been avoided if Kasem had executed proper Powers of Attorney for Personal Care. However, even if those documents do exist, the Courts will intervene if the attorney is not doing a proper job. In the jurisdiction where I practise, an attorney or guardian has a legal duty to keep supportive family members involved and in the loop. I must get at least two or three calls per week from concerned family members who are unable to get information or unable to visit a parent or loved one because the attorney or guardian is not complying with their duties.
This sad case of Casey Kasem demonstrates the need to choose your attorney or guardian for personal care very carefully. In the case where there are blended families whenever possible it may be advisable to have a representative from the first family ,that is one of the children be a co-conservator or attorney with the new spouse. This, of course, can be problematic if the parties do not get along. In that case, a more neutral person should be appointed.