For millions of Americans, Casey Kasem’s unmistakable radio voice is indelibly etched into their memories as the host of the American Top 40 Countdown. Unfortunately, the 82 year-old Kasem has recently become the center of a bitter family conflict between his daughter and his spouse.
Kasem suffers from Lewy body disease, a form of dementia very similar to Parkinson’s disease. The terminal condition has left Kasem incapacitated, and unable to speak or make decisions. Since his incapacitation, Kasem’s wife, Jean Kasem, has been making decisions on her husband’s behalf. However, Kasem’s children from a previous marriage have not agreed with Jean Kasem’s decisions, and the disagreement has lead to court battles. Recently, a California judge granted Kasem’s daughter, Kerri Kasem, a temporary conservatorship over her father over the objections of Jean Kasem.
While the Kasem story is an unfortunate example of what can happen when family members battle over an incapacitated person, it can teach us a lot about incapacity and estate planning.
Aging and Incapacity
The key issue at the heart of cases like the Kasem situation is the question of who gets to make decisions when someone becomes incapacitated. As people age, incapacitation becomes a significant possibility. When someone becomes incapacitated, that person will need someone else to make decisions on that person’s behalf.
In the Kasem situation, the default decision maker was Kasem’s wife, Jean. This is very common, as the law typically presumes that the spouse of an incapacitated person has the legal authority to make choices on that person’s behalf.
But, when the children, or other family members, of an incapacitated person don’t agree with the spouse’s decisions, conflict can arise.
Second Marriages and Step-Children
The Kasem case also highlights the potential issues that can arise in second or subsequent marriages. When children from a previous marriage are involved, they can often hold a belief that they should be the ones to make important decisions for their parent. For example, it’s common for the children to want to be able to make medical choices for the parent, or choose where the parent is buried. Unfortunately, those beliefs and expectations do not always match the choices of the parent’s spouse, who naturally feels a similar right and responsibility to make such decisions.
Age and Planning
When children and parents think about the issue of possible incapacitation, and how it can lead to damaging conflicts, there is a potential solution available. Every capable adult can create an incapacity plan that addresses the important issues that can arise when a person is no longer able to communicate or make choices. The simple act of making your wishes known can go a long way in preventing possible conflicts later on, especially when you know that there is already tension between family members.