SAN DIEGO, July 30, 2014 – Many of us grew up listening to America’s favorite DJ Casey Kasem on the radio, talking about our favorite new songs on “American Top 40.” His distinctive voice and friendly manner made him more than a star, it made him a friend.
What is happening to Kasem and his family is especially sad, and it is a little scary too. Kasem’s second wife, Jean, and his adult children including his daughter Kerri, fought over Kasem’s treatment when the 82-year-old’s health began to worsen due to advanced dementia and other ailments.
The two women got attorneys and the courts involved. There were disputes over who had the legal right to make decisions. His daughter Kerri was named temporary conservator. She said Kasem did not want life support or any lifesaving measures or ongoing treatment. Jean Kasem disagreed.
The drama didn’t end when Kasem died on on June 15. Kerri Kasem said her father wanted to be buried at the well-known Forest Lawn cemetery in Los Angeles. A Tacoma, Washington judge prohibited 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.
Now various sources report Kasem’s body may have been cremated. Or may be in a freezer. Or may have been buried already. The truth may never be known.
It hardly matters as the family battle rages on over the situation and the distribution of Kasem’s $80 million estate including a multimillion trust for his three children from his first marriage and a daughter from his second.
What we can all learn from this situation is the importance of estate planning and putting plans in place that are clear, direct, and undisputed so 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.
No matter what the laws are in each state, the decision really is up to you. Do you want everything to go to your surviving spouse? Or do you want it to go to your children? Do you want to split it up? Do you want to make some sort of arrangements for your widow or widower to get the assets first, with anything left after his or her death going to the next generation? This can set up some serious tensions as children watch their potential inheritance being spent.
Second marriages always require special planning. 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.
Both spouses need to talk openly with their adult children and other family members about their wishes when they are competent to do so. The discussion must be consistent. If possible, everyone should be brought together at one time.
First, 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. If you want your spouse to be the medical decision maker, you need to designate him or her; he or she needs to do the same with you. It is not automatic. For example, in the Terri Schiavo case, her husband Michael did not have a guaranteed right to make medical decisions for his wife.
Same sex couples take note: the legal right to marry doesn’t fix this problem.
Once this is determined, be sure you have the proper financial tools in place to dispose of your assets as you wish. 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.
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.
If your spouse is much younger when you die, do you want all of your money to go to your surviving spouse? If your spouse is still working with a good income, would you rather pass some of it to your heirs now? Do the children from all marriages get an equal share?
In a common situation, what if your wife and your adult children aren’t too far apart in age? Trusting your surviving spouse to have any money left to pass along to your heirs after her death isn’t realistic. After many years, she may feel she has the right to divide it among your children and hers as well.
Imagine also what your heirs think when your widow spend the money on a car they think is too “fancy,” or goes on vacation. They see their inheritance being stolen from them.
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.
As uncomfortable as it might seem, sitting everyone down together and making your terms clear with everyone getting the same information helps manage expectations. The keys to successful family estate planning are careful thought, good communication and guidance from trusted, experienced advisors.
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 +
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