A Seattle estate planning firm is currently advertising on local radio to use their estate planning services so what happened to Casey Kasem’s $80M estate won’t happen to you. I am calling bullshit on this ad.
Casey Kasem’s weird, if not tragic, last months on life and the estate legal battles that followed were not created by improper estate planning but by a vindictive 2nd wife who wanted to use every legal avenue available to disenfranchise his children from his first marriage coupled with bizarre rules in CA that do not exist in WA. Kasem’s story is more completely told elsewhere (for example here), but here are a few highlights to back up my assertion about the ad.
Healthcare Power of Attorney (HCPOA)
My amazing wife Barbara has authority to make health care decisions for me when I am unable to make them for myself. Casey’s wife, Jean, had such a document. The loving relationship between Barb and my children is one of the reasons I married her. I do not expect that if I am in a hospital during the final weeks of my life that Barb will use the authority I have given her to exclude my children from seeing me and then use the courts to back up her authority if they tried. Yes, I could add special provisions to my HCPOA that could include who I want to be able to visit me. Are special provisions enforceable if my POA states otherwise? Client experience tells us no. Just as in Kasem’s scenario, medical facilities don’t want legal issues, will defer to the agent, and let anyone else battle it out with the agent.
Would a differently worded document have helped his kids? Only if he made one of them the agent. The key lesson here is that documents only go so far. The rest is up to the people involved and the laws of the State. I strongly doubt that there is anything the radio advertising Seattle firm could have done differently given the personalities, money involved, and CA rules. You can download a free WA health care POA here. The WA form is more of a medical form than legal, and is distributed through the WA AMA.
Life Insurance Complications
Kasem had two $2M life insurance policies; one for Jean and one for a trust for the benefit of his first marriage children. Jean went to court to block the payment of the kid’s policy because, she argued, they contributed to his death and, under CA law, could not profit from their crime. MetLife did what any insurance company will do in a dispute – they will not pay until a court tells them to. Similar to hospitals when a legal issue is created by the people involved. The court found that the children did not contribute to his death within the meaning of the Statute and MetLife paid the Trust.
I am also a life insurance agent and understand these rules well. Dear Seattle estate planning firm… do you have any life insurance agents in your office? Do you have any recommendations as to how to create this trust to avoid such a legal dispute? There is no way to create this trust to avoid a legal battle over whether payment will be made! We, as a society, want to be able to make a legitimate argument to the court under slayer statutes. Our statute is more restrictive than California’s. The court made the right decision. I suspect that a WA court might have dismissed the case as frivolous. Under this issue as well, the Seattle estate firm’s ad is misleading. Nothing they could have or would have done differently than what Kasem’s attorneys did.
Authority over his body
One of the most bizarre elements of Kasem’s case was how often Jean moved him between hospitals and how his remains ended up in Oslo. He even stayed in Seattle for a short period of time. From the earlier referenced article:
“On May 12, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge had granted Kerri temporary conservatorship over her father’s medical care, and a week and a half later, a Washington judge upheld that order. But when Kerri headed north from Los Angeles to finally see her dad. Jean, who had hired a group of leather-clad veterans on motorcycles to protect the house, refused to let her in. Eventually, Kerri was allowed to visit her father. At Jean’s request, a judge also ordered that “photos taken of Mr. Kasem during visits shall not be disseminated.” But a few hours later, Jean did something that many saw as a far more egregious violation of her husband’s privacy: She held a press conference at which she played audio of her husband moaning. She claimed he was upset about the judge’s ruling.” If you read the entire article you will see that this is only one of several bizarre episodes.
Yes, his legal documents allowed Jean to make these decisions. Did she have to do it in a way that alienated his children? No, and that has little to do with his documents.
You can listen to radio ads that generate unnecessary fear, will not change anything, but might make you feel like they have solved something for you, or you can talk to someone who will just tell you the truth and you don’t have to pay for expensive radio ads.