Casey Kasem Image Credit: Alan Light
In today's Tales of Elder Financial Abuse, I'd like to turn your attention to one of the more common situations I encounter in my own law practice - namely, when stepchildren and their stepmother go to war.
Photo Credit: Alan Light
This is a picture of Casey Kasem, who was the velvet-voice of American Top 40 radio for nearly 40 years until he died on June 15, 2014 from a combination of Parkinson's, dementia and other medical problems at the age of 82.
Kasem's first marriage in 1972 ended in divorce, but produced three children - Mike, Julie and Kerri. In 1980, he married the actress Jean Thompson and had one more child, Liberty Jean.
In 2007, Kasem was diagnosed with Parkinson's, and a few months later he was further diagnosed with Lewy body dementia. He retired from public life in 2009, and from that point on his health became progressively worse.
In 2013, Kasem's wife placed him in a hospital.
From that moment on, fighting over his estimated $80 million estate escalated quickly, and the relationship between the stepmother and the stepchildren became more strained once Kasem was in the hospital. According to the LA Times, the stepchildren did not even know Kasem was hospitalized until he had already been there a week. Visits to see him were restricted by the stepmother.
Then the legal battles began. The children filed a lawsuit against the stepmother in Superior Court seeking temporary appointment of conservatorship over their father. In the filing, the children allege that Kasem had:
• major impairment to short term, long term and immediate recall memory
• major impairment to verbally communicate
• major impairment to perform simple calculations, plan simple tasks and reason logically.
• severe disorganized thinking
• moderate hallucinations
The suit alleged that Kasem was grossly mistreated once he became mentally impaired, and that the stepmother was responsible.
The case was ultimately "denied with prejudice" on January 14, 2014, but a new case petition was brought in May 2014, at which point a different court and judge granted temporary guardianship by the stepchildren. The drama escalated when the stepchildren tried to get sheriffs to transport Casey Kasem to an emergency room. Doctors, lawyers and court-appointed representatives wrangled back and forth for weeks. Kasem was ultimately found to have a urinary tract infection, wound and lung infections, septic shock and an ulcer in his back. The stepchildren alleged that their stepmother should have been prosecuted for abuse.
Unfortunately, the story does not end well. Kasem's wife was unable to regain custody, and Kasem's condition worsened in the hospital. On June 14, 2014, medical care was withdrawn and Kasem died a few hours later.
As usually happens, the case did not end there, of course. On June 14, 2017, Jean Kasem filed a lawsuit against her stepchildren claiming wrongful death. Here is a copy of that compliant.
All the litigation will not bring Casey Kasem back, and the stepmother lawsuit against the stepchildren will not likely end well, no matter which side prevails. The moment when all of this could have been avoided happened 10 years ago, or more, when cooler heads might have talked through the issues and come to some decisions.
From the many years I have spent representing families torn apart when stepchildren battle with stepmothers, things never return to normal, and the parties never reconcile. It just doesn't happen in real life. At this point, there will be no winners.
So was Casey Kasem a victim of elder abuse? Did his second wife hasten his demise, either intentionally or through neglect? Or did the children from his first marriage take advantage of Kasem while he was incapacitated to systematically go after his (and their step-mother's) assets? The answers are more elusive than you might expect. Untangling the facts from the emotion and sequence of events will be difficult.
If someone had come to me for advice in 2013, I would have asked both the stepmother and the stepchildren to establish a dialogue, to talk about the hard issues that would lie ahead, and to establish a way to take care of the ailing father/husband first, and then to protect the assets accrued over a lifetime of hard work. Direct communication between the parties is crucial, or else they all end up communicating through lawyers, which is exactly what happened here.
Hopefully something positive will come from this tragic story. However the dispute is resolved, Kasem's children have taken a proactive step to help others who will be faced with a similar situation. They formed a non-profit organization whose purpose is to promote legislation that gives adult family members more rights when a relative seeks to restrict access during end-of-life care.
The following message is from the kasemcares.org web site:
The work of Kasem Cares addresses the experiences of an increasing number of families whose family members need protection from abuse, regardless of their financial status. Increasingly, adult family members around the country need to protect ailing relatives whose lives are being controlled by someone who restricts access to and creates inhumane conditions for a vulnerable adult.
I am speaking out and supporting legislation to stop Elder Abuse in the form of isolation of an ailing parent or loved one. Thousands of families are torn apart everyday due to an abusive caretaker alienating/isolating their spouse, sibling, or patient from their loved ones.
Join us to help protect vulnerable families facing such challenges now and protect your family from such possible abuses in the future.
With love and gratitude,
The Kasem Cares visitation bill has been passed in 11 states, with 9 others passing other versions.
While I support the basic idea behind the legislation and am glad to see attention being brought to issues surrounding elder abuse, it saddens me to think that we need legislation to give rights to the families of ailing loved ones.
The Kasem case clearly demonstrates how important communication is in families with second marriages. The best way to prevent such scenarios is to get all the parties talking. Once a battle begins, the war is already lost.