The recent death of legendary DJ and host of American Top 40 (and the voice of Shaggy on Scooby-Doo,a personal favorite!) Casey Kasem came at the end of a public spectacle of family infighting and legal action that undoubtedly Mr. Kasem would not have wanted. Disputes between his current wife and children from a former marriage about the care of Mr. Kasem, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and dementia, led to a very public feud between the family members, filing of a missing persons report after he was removed from a California facility and allegedly moved to Washington State, and a court action where his children requested a conservatorship over their father’s health care.
This tragic tale played out in tabloids, TV, and the internet, could have been easily avoided with the right legal paperwork in place. While I don’t know specifically if Mr. Kasem had signed these documents before he became incompetent, he should have had a Durable General Power of Attorney for financial matters, a Durable Health Care Power of Attorney, and an Advance Medical Directive/Living Will.
While these documents are important for everyone, they are particularly critical for someone in the early stages of dementia since it is only a matter of time until they will no longer be legally competent to act for themselves or sign new legal documents. In such cases where it is probable that the legal documents will be needed, and potentially be in place for a number of years, they can and should be customized to address the issues that arose in Mr. Kasem’s case—who is in charge of his care, the nature of that care, any wishes regarding visitation with his family members, particularly the children of his first marriage who already had a strained relationship with his current wife, and other specific matters.
No one likes to think about the depressing and difficult issues of disability, incapacity, and death, but not thinking about it, and not making any plans for such events, does not mean that they will not happen. The essential elements of a Peace of Mind plan, the Durable General Power of Attorney (financial and health care), Living Will, and Will or Trust, give you the opportunity to make those difficult decision now, while you can, appoint the people you want to act for you, and give them guidance about the way you would like to be cared for should something unfortunate happen to you. While your case may never make the tabloids or TV, in the absence of appropriate guidance your loved ones may struggle with understanding (or agreeing upon) your intentions and who should do what, and an already difficult and emotional time can become that much more difficult for them, possibly leading to irreconcilable rifts in the family. A very public figure like Casey Kasem would not have wanted his last news stories to be about family strife rather than about his remarkable career. You have the ability to make your final “news story” one of celebrating a life well lived rather than a fight over your unspoken intentions. A Peace of Mind plan can provide this guidance and keep the peace!