If you’ve read the news lately, you may have noticed headlines about famed American Top 40 radio host Casey Kasem who recently passed away. His family was entangled in a legal battle over his care during the last months of his life. How did this family feud erupt?

Most people think of an estate plan as being something that just plans for death. However, a proper estate plan does just as much to protect you in the event of incapacity during life as it does to plan for your ultimate death. This was highlighted in the recent legal battle amongst the family members of legendary radio personality Casey Kasem.

Kasem fell ill in the later years of life with a rare brain disease known as Lewy body dementia. Kasem was married to his second wife – Jean – and they had one child together. Kasem also had three adult children from his first wife: Julie, Mike and Kerri.

It has been reported that Kasem set up his estate plan documents such that his three adult children from his first wife were given the power to make health care decisions in the event of his incapacity. This may seem odd to some people – that a man would give this type of power to his children rather than to his wife. However, a great deal of consideration must be given when naming a person as health care agent. One must consider the person’s ability to manage difficult decisions, their medical knowledge or training, and whether the person has a track record of making good health decisions for themselves and their loved ones.

As you can probably guess, the fact that Kasem’s children – not his wife – were named to make medical decisions caused a rift in the family. The media has reported that the children and the wife ended up going to court in California and in Washington because they couldn’t agree what type of care Kasem should receive.

The court ultimately held in favor of the wishes Kasem set forth in his medical directives, to the dismay of his wife. His children were allowed to make decisions about Kasem’s treatment and end of life care in accordance with his estate plan. One of Kasem’s daughters was appointed as his temporary conservator for his health care. In Nevada, we call this a temporary guardian.

Everybody – regardless of age or wealth – should set up powers of attorney and designate agents to make health and financial decisions in the event of incapacity during life. Further, those documents should also include a nomination of guardian. Most people think of “guardianship” as only applying to minor children. Not true. Nominating a guardian is just important for adults so that the court will know who you want to serve as your legal guardian if you ever become disabled or incapacitated to the point that it becomes necessary to have a guardian appointed.

These challenges are not unique to the Kasem family. These are issues that a growing number of families have to face all over the country. The importance of proper planning for incapacity will continue to be highlighted as our aging population grows. The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that 20% of the U.S. population will be age 65 and older by 2050. Don’t assume your family will “do the right thing” and follow your wishes. Get your wishes in writing in the form of a proper estate plan.

Do you have questions about the best way to structure your estate plan to protect yourself in the event of incapacity or death? Please feel free to give me a call.

Cordially, Kristin Tyler