Friday, June 13, 2014

What We Can Learn From One of America's Most Familiar Voices

Most Americans are familiar with the name Casey Kasem. He is a well-known radio personality famous for hosting shows such as American Top 40, American Top 20 and American Top 10 with a career spanning from 1970 until his retirement in 2009. Kasem also played the voice of the loveable character Shaggy on Scooby-Doo for forty years. Unfortunately, Casey Kasem is now famous for something he probably never considered putting on his resumé: the example of what can happen when we age.  
Casey Kasem was diagnosed with a rare form of dementia called Lewy Body Dementia. In the past year alone, his family’s struggles have played out in the media for the entire country to witness. The first instance was back in October when Kasem’s daughters led a protest outside of his LA mansion, demanding their stepmother let them see their ailing father. More recently, daughter, Kerri Kasem, accused her stepmother, Jean, of removing Casey from a nursing home in Santa Monica and fleeing California in order to avoid complying with a court order that gave Kerri control over medical decisions for her father. Casey was found in Washington three days later. Shortly thereafter, the country saw video footage of Jean throwing hamburger meat at her stepdaughter, Kerri, saying “she was throwing it at the dogs”. Jean was back in court in early June asking a judge to resume Casey’s water, nutrition, and medical infusions because Kerri had moved to implement end of life measures after doctors determined that feeding and hydrating Casey had become increasingly painful. Jean was granted the request.
It’s hard to imagine a brutal war between family members, but Casey Kasem’s case is not a rarity.  The struggles over visitation and Kasem’s care have sparked conversations across the country about how this type of fight can be prevented.  From an estate planning perspective, what can we take out of Kasem’s story to better plan for the aging process?
First, it’s important to understand that second marriages require additional questions and planning. Thought must be given to the potential impact a choice may have if your spouse is not the parent of your children. Subsequent spouses and adult children from prior marriages may not only have differing viewpoints on how a situation should be handled, but also struggle as to who should control decision-making from the outset.  A frank analysis of your family dynamic should be done at the outset of the planning process.  Without communication and effective planning, decisions about the type of medical care you should receive or where you should be buried can become complicated if your spouse and children are not in agreement. Inheritance decisions are also trickier. Should the surviving spouse receive the entire estate, or should the children from prior marriages inherit along with the spouse when you die? An estate planning attorney can walk through the different options with you to help make these decisions easier.
It is especially important to discuss who should have control medically and financially should you become unable to care for yourself. Too often we assume our family members know what we would want done instead of taking the time to have a frank discussion with them about our particular wishes.  It is important to realize that your loved ones may all have good intentions, but have different opinions when it comes to the decisions that need to be made. Proper planning can ease this transition and ensure that a plan is made that best reflects your wishes.  To avoid conflict, I suggest these conversations happen openly so that all potential caregivers understand your wishes and have an opportunity to dialogue with you about their fears and concerns. Careful thought should also be given to establishing powers of attorney and health care documents so that specific individuals are designated to make financial and health care decisions on your behalf should you become unable to act for yourself. Living wills and a POST form (if you have been diagnosed with a terminal or chronic illness) allow you to express your specific wishes as to the type and manner of end-of-life care you wish to receive.

Planning and communication while you are alive and healthy is key to ensuring that your family does not end up like the Kasems.  For additional information, or to plan your estate, contact Geyer & Associates at 317-973-4555 or rgeyerlaw.com.