As I’m sure many of you have heard, Casey Kasem and his family have recently been in the news regarding his brief disappearance and the legal proceedings surrounding his situation. Recently, the famous host of “America’s Top 40″ and the voice of Shaggy from “Scooby-Doo” was reported missing by his daughters, who had been seeking a conservatorship over Kasem. Kasem was confirmed as missing on May 12. At that time, his daughter Kerri Kasem began seeking temporary conservatorship over her father, in order to facilitate a search effort. Casey Kasem, the 82-year old DJ has been found in Washington state, a long distance from his home in California. The family has been at odds with Kasem’s wife, Jean, over visitation rights. Jean Kasem has been moving Casey Kasem from hospital to hospital, and refusing to let his children see him. Casey Kasem is suffering from Lewy Body Disease, which is a similar form of dementia to Parkinson’s Disease, and has left him barely able to talk.
Not surprisingly, situations where family members dispute with each other and remove the elderly member from the household is common. Generally, the motivation for these behaviors arise from money, but can also arise from one family member attempting to exert control over the actual person during his or her final days. Without the proper legal documents (Power of Attorney), the other family members must pursue a guardianship and/or conservatorship in order to prevent the person from being financially abused or taken advantage of by another individual.
Our office has had a number of cases similar to Casey Kasem’s current legal dispute, but specifically, one such case sticks out. Names have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty, and our office has express permission from all involved to tell this story. Several years ago, an elderly widowed woman named “Patty” lived in her home with a family friend, “Bill,” who was 30 years younger than Patty and had previously worked in the family business. Bill lived with Patty, paid rent to Patty, and did odd jobs around the house, as well as working on his own. Everything was fine until Patty’s family noticed suspicious behavior from Bill, specifically with Bill’s behavior towards Patty, as well as Patty’s increasing hostility and bizarre actions towards her own children.
Patty’s children were suspicious that Bill was taking money from Patty and that she might be suffering from dementia. Patty did not have a Power of Attorney document executed appointing her children as her agent, and thus, Patty’s children were essentially powerless in order to regain control and supervision over Patty’s finances. When Patty’s children came to our office, we recommended that they pursue a guardianship and conservatorship over Patty at the local circuit court. In order to file the petition for guardianship and conservatorship, a doctor’s medical evaluation is needed. The medical evaluation is completed by a medical professional who gives an opinion regarding the alleged incapacitated person’s ability to handle his or her own medical and financial affairs. Thus, a doctor visited Patty in her home and diagnosed her with dementia. Immediately after the petition was filed, Bill packed suitcases and took Patty to California, but not before stopping in Tennessee to marry her there. The marriage was performed by a judge and therefore, Patty and Bill were legally married. Bill was 52 years old and Patty was 86 years old.
As soon as this happened, Patty’s family hired a private investigator to locate Patty and Bill. The private investigator eventually found Patty and Bill living in a small apartment north of Los Angeles. At this same time, Bill was attempting to sell Patty’s house (presumably to keep all the cash from the sale for himself). However, the family learned of the sale 2 days before the closing date, and thus our office was able to prevent the sale of the house. Next, our office made arrangements to have Patty’s guardian ad litem to fly to California to meet with Patty. The guardian ad litem’s role is to ensure that the incapacitated person has someone to protect his or her best interests. The guardian ad litem performs an investigation for the court and files a written report to the court of his or her findings. In this instant case, Patty’s guardian ad litem reported that Patty was clearly incapacitated and in need for a guardian and conservator. After the presentation of evidence, review of the guardian ad litem’s report, and the doctor’s medical evaluation, the judge ruled that Patty was incapacitated and that our clients (Patty’s family members) are to be Patty’s guardian and conservator.
The day after the judge’s ruling, our clients flew out to California with their court order so that they could bring Patty back to Virginia and take proper care of her. However, when they arrived, they had learned that Bill had put Patty on a one-way plane trip to Germany the previous night. Yes, Germany. Apparently, Patty had several extended family still living in Germany and kept in contact with her, except that no one in America could be sure if Patty had even arrived safely into Germany. At this point, due to international law (and the lack of international law for guardianships), our office simply had to wait for Patty to return to the United States. Several months into her stay, Patty was admitted to a hospital where her doctor contacted her guardian and asked from him to come get her. The guardian flew over to Germany and safely returned Patty back to her home in Virginia. Patty eventually died a few years later, surrounded by her family and completely unaware of what had transpired during those harrowing months with Bill.
Overall, this guardianship cost Patty over $30,000, not including the funds that had been stolen or misused by Bill during that time he was with Patty nor the attorney’s fees for her marriage annulment in Tennessee. I’m fairly confident Casey Kasem’s current situation includes a hefty price tag for his legal fees and guardianship proceedings as well, not too mention the family tension that has resulted from his situation. The lesson of these guardianship horror stories is this: Make sure you have your legal documents in order (Power of Attorney, Advance Medical Directive, etc.) early, because once a guardianship proceeding becomes inevitable, you may lose your family members and large amounts of money or could result in a large dispute for years to come between everyone involved.