July 18, 2024
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Planning Lessons From a Sad End to an American Icon

I want to take you back to an earlier time, a simpler time. A time before the Internet. A time before we could say, “I want to listen to that Taylor Swift (or Uncle Moishy) song,” go to YouTube, and watch it on demand. In those ancient days we used to have to wait until our favorite song came on the radio. And if we wanted to know what was popular, we had to tune in every Sunday to listen to Casey Kasem’s America’s Top 40.

Casey had the ultimate radio voice. Whether or not you agreed with his positions on many things, we could all agree that Casey knew music and he knew how to make music fun. Which is why his eventual demise was so tragic. There are many estate planning lessons we can learn from Casey’s final story.

In 2013, Casey’s health was in decline because he suffered from Lewy Body Disease (a severe form of dementia). Casey’s wife at the time, Jean Kasem, was increasingly hostile to Casey’s children (her stepchildren), and Jean allegedly refused to share medical information with them. In late 2013, Casey’s daughter, Julie Kasem, filed a petition seeking to become Casey’s conservator (or guardian) and enforce a medical directive signed by Casey in 2007 naming Julie as his “attorney-in-fact” to make healthcare decisions for him. Jean countered with a 2011 medical directive naming Jean as Casey’s attorney-in-fact. Jean, Casey’s wife, won in court and she was allowed to decide Casey’s future.

In May of 2014, Jean inexplicably (she said Casey was “on vacation”) moved Casey from a nursing home in California to one of her friend’s homes in Washington state. Kerri Kasem (Casey’s daughter) asked judges in California and Washington to grant her control over her father’s care because she felt Jean had made her father’s condition worse. The California and Washington judges agreed with Kerri.

This is when things got downright weird. On Sunday, June 1, 2014, an ambulance came to Jean’s friend’s house in Washington to take Casey to the hospital. As the ambulance crew was taking Casey away, Jean started throwing raw meat at them and, according to NBC News, she yelled: “In the name of King David, I threw a piece of raw meat into the street in exchange for my husband to the wild, rabid dogs!”

I wish I could say this was the end of Casey’s plight, but the truth is the saga was just beginning. I’ll give you the short version: Casey’s condition seriously deteriorated. Kerri wanted to remove her father’s supplemental nutrition because her father signed an advance medical directive that stated he did not want supplemental nutrition if it “would result in a mere biological existence, devoid of cognitive function, with no reasonable hope of normal functioning.” Jean wanted to keep Casey alive. The judge agreed with Kerri, and Casey died on June 15, 2014.

The story does not have a happy ending. Jean absconded with Casey’s body after he passed and buried him in an unmarked grave in Norway, even though Casey had said on multiple occasions he wanted to be buried in California near his children. If you Google “where is Casey Kasem buried?” you’ll see the sad photographs of his unmarked grave. An American icon buried thousands of miles away from the ones who loved him most.

Casey Kasem’s story is indeed sad, but there are a few lessons we can learn from an estate planning perspective. These lessons all relate to three essential ancillary documents that we prepare for all of our clients when they sign their wills (and/or revocable trusts).

The first document is called a Medical Power of Attorney in New Jersey. (In New York it’s called a Healthcare Proxy.) In this document, you can appoint someone (and a backup or two) to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Casey created two of these documents, one in 2007 and another in 2011, which created a complicated situation for his family members.

To explain, anything titled “power of attorney” is usually a document that can have duplicates. If you create a power of attorney in 2007, and then another one in 2011, the second power of attorney does not automatically override the first one. In fact, both powers of attorney generally work. On the other hand, if you create a will in 2007, and then another will in 2011, the 2011 will does override the 2007 will, and the 2007 will has no effect.

Casey had two documents that were (basically) medical powers of attorney, which caused the confusion. If you do have a new medical power of attorney and you want to override the first one, then you must destroy the first medical power of attorney and make sure anyone relying on the first one is told about it, in writing.

The second document we prepare, which did work in Casey’s case, is called a living will in New Jersey. (In New York and other states it’s called an advance directive.) This document spells out under what circumstances a person wishes to be kept alive by extraordinary measures. Casey did not want to be kept alive if there was “no reasonable hope of cognitive functioning.” Our documents are stated somewhat differently, but have similar impact.

For our religious clients we have a “Halachic Living Will.” This document merges the medical power of attorney/healthcare proxy and living will/advance directive into one document that specifically references Jewish law and names a rabbi in case of halachic questions. It harmonizes a lot of these issues while making sure Jewish integrity remains at the end of one’s life.

Casey Kasem’s life did not have to end as tragically as it did. With a little extra planning, he could have avoided many of the issues that his family members encountered. I encourage you to learn from Casey’s plight and take steps to make certain that you don’t end up in the same situation. To help you along the way, if you send me an email at [email protected], I’ll send you our medical power of attorney form for New Jersey (for free) so you can follow through to make sure you and your family members are protected.

Alec Borenstein, Esq., an estate planning attorney, is a Teaneck resident with offices in Springfield and Brooklyn. His firm’s website is bmcestateplanning.com. If you’d like a free estate planning consultation in the comfort of your own home or office, please email [email protected].

By Alec Borenstein

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