Kerri Kasem, the daughter of the late American Top 40 DJ, Casey Kasem, has been on a mission to make sure what happened to her and her siblings does not happen to others. When her father’s health deteri orated from Parkinson’s disease, it sparked an ugly court battle between his children and his wife, Jean Kasem, which did not end until he died. By then, Casey Kasem was suffering from serious bed sores, a urinary tract infection, and sepsis.
Kerri Kasem feels that her father’s death could have been prevented if she and her siblings had been able to see him and monitor his care better, but there were not sufficient protections in the law to help.
Until recently, not a single state in the United States offered specific protection to relatives of loved ones who were under court-ordered guardianship or conservatorship to make sure they could remain in contact with their incompetent loved one. Rather, the person named as guardian or conservator typically controlled visitation and contact, which could include denying contact altogether. That’s still the case in 48 states.
Think about the implications of that for families — like the Kasem family — that are comprised of second or third marriages. When an elderly parent/spouse suffers from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other problems that cause mental decline, often the spouse becomes the legal decision-maker. Children from prior marriages, who may not get along well with the spouse, can be excluded completely. This robs the children and the incompetent adult both from having meaningful contact — which is especially important since each visit and phone call could be the last one. This dynamic also often plays out in families where siblings do not get along, when one or more adult children seek to exclude others.
Like many other adult children in her shoes, Kerri Kasem went to court to be able to see her father and make sure he was protected. She faced a very difficult time doing so in California. First, she and other friends and family members of Casey Kasem staged protests outside his house, begging for the right to visit. Next, Kerri and her siblings filed for conservatorship (which is what guardianship proceedings are called in California), eventually winning the right to visit and have contact with their father, after initially being denied those rights.
Finally, Kerri’s lawyer convinced a California judge to remove Jean Kasem — Casey Kasem’s wife — as his decision-maker, and name Kerri in her place. Once Kerri was appointed as the conservator, she rushed to try to protect her father. But, by then, it was too late. Casey had been moved around to various states, his health deteriorated, and he died shortly thereafter.
Kerri and her relatives pushed for elder abuse charges to be filed against Casey’s widow, Jean Kasem, contending that removing him from a nursing home against medical advice, and moving him around the country, caused or contributed to his death. After Casey died, Jean then had Casey’s body moved to Canada and finally to Norway, where he was eventually buried – without an autopsy having been performed.
Recently, the L.A. District Attorney’s office announced it would not prosecute the case due to lack of evidence of criminal neglect or abuse. According to a report from the District Attorney’s office, the investigating attorney felt that Jean Kasem “made continuous efforts to ensure that Mr. Kasem was medically supervised.” Kerri Kasem holds out hope that charges may be brought in Washington, where Casey Kasem was located when he died.
The Kasem family court battle was similar to many others, as we’ve seen with countless other celebrities, including Zsa Zsa Gabor, Groucho Marx, Peter Falk, and most recently, B.B. King. It’s also a very common dispute among non-celebrity families.
Kerri Kasem now wants to protect other families so they don’t have to fight as hard in court as she and her siblings did. She runs a foundation called the Kasem Cares Foundation and has been working with legislators in various states to try to pass new laws to protect communication and visitation between incompetent adults and their relatives. In late April, Iowa became to first state to adopt new laws to protect these right. More recently, Texas followed suit by passing similar laws.
The Texas and Iowa laws differ in many respects, but both create important rights to foster visitation and communication between relatives and incompetent adults, which were previously missing. The Texas laws go a step further than Iowa’s and require the guardian to keep relatives informed of important developments like hospital admissions, a change in residence, the death of the incompetent adult, and funeral arrangements. Most people think that family members would already be entitled to receive this information, but they’re not — except in Texas.
We recently spoke with Kerri Kasem about her crusade, and she explained that these new laws are designed to “save families from the heartbreak of isolation.” And while she is “thrilled beyond words” that two states have already passed the bills into law, she is working hard to promote similar legislation in other states.
Kerri Kasem hopes that California, Nevada, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan, among other states, may soon pass similar protective laws. She worries that there are many seniors at risk from “aggressive predators, self-interested second spouses, and unethical business managers” and says that these new laws are needed to help families maintain contact with incompetent elders so that they can protect them.
Kerri Kasem also says that she knows her father would be very proud of her and what she is doing, because he always stood up for what was right. She said that Casey Kasem was an “advocate and a humanitarian.”
If you find yourself facing this type of dispute, it is important to consult with an experienced guardianship attorney promptly to find out your legal rights. Even if the state you live in does not have these new laws, there may be options available to help, depending on the specific circumstances involved.
And if you want the state you live in consider similar legislation as has been passed in Texas and Iowa, you can visit the Kasem Cares Foundation website at www.kasemcares.com.