Casey Kasem, famous radio personality passed away this June. Legal battles raged during his final days, as the estate planning documentation he had agreed to failed to protect his wishes. As Kasem became increasingly ill, legal questions arose regarding who had power of attorney and could control his medical decisions. Kasem’s Daughter Kerri, had legitimate claim to control from a healthcare directive signed in 2007. However, he had granted power of attorney in 2011 to his second wife, Jean. These conflicting documents created legal hassles and uncertainty for Kasem and his family.
Kasem signed the health care directive (often called a living will) giving his daughter the power to make medical end-of-life decisions after he was diagnosed with Lewy Body disease in 2007. The document noted that Kasem did not want to be kept on life support if it “would result in a mere biological existence, devoid of cognitive function, with no reasonable hope for normal functioning.” Specificity is essential in a living will, to ensure that if interpretation by a court takes place; your wishes will be carried out. The language used by Kasem did not make his desires entirely clear to the judge, as seen by the reversal of decisions regarding his life support. A Los Angeles Judge initially ordered Kerri to resume infusions of food, water and medicine, as requested by Jean, but later allowed Kerri to remove her father from life supports.
This leads to the other problem in Kasem’s estate plan- the lack of clarity regarding power of attorney. The conflicting documents made it harder for courts to enforce anything and muddled his true wishes. In this case, non-legal problems were also a cause of this tragedy, when Jean removed Kasem from his nursing home, allegedly worsening his illness, there was nothing the courts could do. Kerri was appointed conservator during this period, but due to Kasem’s disappearance, could do little. Often court appointed conservators can control medical and financial decisions for an absent individual. Estate planning documents can help to ensure courts appoint a conservator you would want.
No one wants to imagine the worst case scenario, but having documents in place that clearly designate power of attorney and your wishes can ensure you are prepared for the unexpected. Family conflicts and tensions are only exacerbated by illness and death, and estate plans need to account for these issues.
If you live in Montgomery, Philadelphia, or Delaware counties and would like to discuss your estate plan, please contact us.