If you have spent time online or watching the news recently, you have probably heard about Casey Kasem’s disturbing final weeks. The legendary host of American Top 40 and longtime voice of Shaggy from Scooby Doo passed away last weekend at the age of 82.
There are so many lessons to be learned from Casey’s last weeks that it is hard to know where to begin. I have provided two links to articles about recent developments. The Forbes article discusses in detail the battle between Casey’s second wife, Jean, and his daughter Kerri over control of Casey’s care. The second article, from Find Law, discusses some of the estate planning tools and strategies involved in the case. In this post, I would like to focus on the latter article.
Health Care Proxy/Advance Healthcare Directive/Living Will. This document allows a person to give authority to another adult to make healthcare decisions on his or her behalf in the event of incapacity, and specify the types of treatment desired in an end of life situation. Casey signed such a directive in 2007, placing his daughter Kerri and her husband in charge of making healthcare decisions for him.
Power of Attorney. A Power of Attorney is different from an Advance Healthcare Directive, but it too authorizes another adult to make legal and financial decisions on behalf of an incapacitated person. Some Power of Attorney documents may include authority to make health care decisions, which can lead to conflict between the documents. In 2011, Casey designated his wife Jean as Power of Attorney, and this superseded Casey’s 2007 Advance Healthcare Directive. This illustrates the problem of naming separate parties, at separate times, to make decisions on one’s behalf.
Guardianship and Conservatorship. Casey’s daughter was able to successfully argue for and obtain Conservatorship a month before Casey’s death. This gave her control over Casey’s financial and medical decisions. (It is important to note that in Massachusetts, Conservatorship names a person to make financial decisions on another’s behalf, while Guardianship can authorize a person to make medical decisions.) In this way, she was able to enforce Casey’s Advance Healthcare Directive, which stipulated that he did not wish to be kept alive if doing so “would result in a mere biological existence.”
While it is advisable to be more specific in making one’s Advance Healthcare Directive, Casey’s condition was so dire that his doctor concluded that continuing artificial nutrition and hydration would “at best prolong the dying process for him and certainly add suffering to an already terribly uncomfortable dying process.”
It’s a sad story, one that will no doubt get even uglier as the parties battle over Casey’s estate and allegations of elder abuse. But hopefully, it will serve as a reminder about the importance of open communication between family members and the need for comprehensive, consistent end-of-life planning.