SAN DIEGO, July 8, 2015 – In the year since America’s favorite DJ Casey Kasem died on on June 15, 2014, the unfortunate family feud between his surviving spouse and his children rages on.
Daughter Kerri Kasem’s experience turned her into a vigorous advocate pushing “parental visitation legislation” and the reform of laws in all 50 states ensuring visitation rights for adult children to see aging parents, and a say in their care and guardianship.
Lawmakers in Iowa became the first to pass the Kasem-inspired reforms, unanimously passing legislation in April. Legislation introduced by California Assemblyman Mike Gatto has been passed by both houses of the state legislature, and now goes to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature. Assembly Bill 1085 would provide “reasonable accommodations” for adult children who want to visit their parents, and provides the right to know when a parent’s health worsens or if the parent dies. The legislation as proposed also provides legal recourse if children from prior marriages are denied access by the parent’s current spouse or any other family member.
Kerri Kasem, who is a radio-talk show host in Los Angeles, says her father wanted to be buried at the well-known Forest Lawn cemetery in Los Angeles. A Tacoma, Washington judge prohibited his wife Jean Kasem from having her husband’s body cremated. When Kerri Kasem went to the funeral home to arrange for him to be transported to California, she was told his body had been moved to a funeral home in Montreal. In December 2014, six months after his death, Jean Kasem buried her husband in Oslo, Norway.
Kerri Kasem wrote on her Facebook page when she learned about his father’s burial, “This morning my family and I learned that my Dad’s abusive wife Jean Thompson Kasem and their daughter Liberty conned a cemetery in Norway into burying my Dad there. Even with ALL the letters … from my father’s friends and family stating that he wanted to be buried in the UNITED STATES, the country in which he was born and raised, his wishes were, once again, ignored by his unfaithful wife.”
Kerri Kasem believed Jean Kasem was having a long-term affair at the time of her father’s death, and the offshore burial was her attempt to cover up years of elder abuse. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office announced on May 25 it would not file any charges against Jean Kasem in connection with elder abuse.
After sharing her struggle to see her father in media interviews, Kasem heard from thousands of adult children with similar stories, including another celebrity daughter. Catherine Falk, the daughter of actor Peter Falk, was close to her father for 30 years. In 2008, Peter Falk became completely incapacitated as a result of advanced dementia, but his current wife failed to inform Catherine or his other children of his declining condition and refused to allow his children to visit their ailing father.
See video from 2014 featuring Assemblyman Gatto and Kerri Kasem when his bill was originally introduced.
With divorce and remarriage a fact of life today, the potential for such conflicts is growing. Current laws in most states don’t provide protections to insure visitation or access to health information by adult children or other relatives if they are denied by a current spouse. There is no obligation to tell adult children or other family members when someone has died, is hospitalized, or receiving acute or hospice care.
In the meantime, even if legislation passes in every state, proactive estate planning remains your best means of ensuring your wishes are carried out when you cannot act for yourself due to health concerns, and after your death. This is especially important when a second marriage (or more) is involved. If there is a large estate with many assets, a significant age gap between the spouses, and multiple sets of children, how the assets are distributed can be complicated.
This planning should be done up front at the time of the marriage. It is a wise idea to get both a family law attorney and a financial planner involved. It should be clear, direct, and undisputed.
Both spouses should speak openly with their adult children and other family members about their wishes when they are competent to do so. If possible, everyone should be brought together at one time. Living wills, health care proxies, medical powers of attorney and health care instructions should be reviewed and the proper legal tools put into place to ensure your medical decisions remain exactly as you want them. Same sex couples take note: the legal right to marry doesn’t fix this problem.
It is critical to think through the many possible scenarios that could take place after your death involving your family members including your widow or widower, a former spouse, and children from any or all marriages. Don’t assume everyone gets along, even if they are polite to each other in your presence. Being in denial now only sets up anguish and heartbreak for your loved ones later.
Relationships between stepparents and children can become strained after the death of the connection between them, even hostile, when you’re no longer around. Children can end up suing over the distribution of a parent’s estate when things get tense, alleging that wife number two (or three) pressured the parent into a “bad” decision. Your financial and legal advisors can talk through the pros and cons of various types of trusts, life insurance, and other asset distribution tools. Don’t forget pensions and retirement funds. They can provide a buffer among relatives without getting involved in the emotional aspects.
To learn more about this issue, visit the Kasem Cares Foundation website.
Myra Chack Fleischer serves as Lead Counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby in Carlsbad, California with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Read more Legally Speaking in Communities Digital News. Follow Myra on Twitter: @LawyerMyra. Fleischer can be reached via Google +
Copyright © 2015 by Fleischer & Ravreby