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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Why Casey Kasem’s Kids Think Michigan Needs To Change Its Laws

Do children have a right to visit their dying parents? In Michigan, they soon may thanks to the children of Casey Kasem, Mickey Rooney, and Glen Campbell. Regardless of what the law is, this is something anyone who is making an estate plan should think about.

A lot of attention is paid to parental rights, and rightfully so, but as the Baby Boomer generation ages, a new issue is emerging - adult children who are prevented from visiting their dying parents. This problem is widespread, but awareness of it was limited before stories about the children of Casey Kasem, Mickey Rooney, and Glen Campbell being denied visitation rights as their fathers died made headlines.

From his children’s point of view, Detroit native Casey Kasem was held hostage and mistreated by his spouse before he died. Casey’s daughter Kerri says during her father’s last year, she was told she would never get to see her father again. And she nearly didn’t. She had to go to court and seek guardianship of her father in order to visit him and implement a medical directive signed by him which stated he did not want to be kept alive if was unlikely he would recover from whatever was ailing him.

Kerri’s experiences inspired her to start a foundation called Kasem Cares, which advocates for states to adopt a law that will allow family members to petition the courts for visitation rights without seeking full guardianship over their relative. Getting granted guardianship is difficult and time-consuming, so a court-ordered right to visitation would be better in situations where parents are seriously ailing and may not live much longer, or when families are in bitter arguments that cannot be adjudicated overnight.

It’s a problem that is more common that you might expect, as evidenced by the fact that Mickey Rooney’s daughter and Glen Campbell’s son have thrown their support behind Kasem Cares after being blocked from visiting their own dying fathers. Don’t, however, let the fact that the children of celebrities are leading the charge on this issue make you think that only famous families with larger than average estates fight over end of life visitation. It is a widespread problem.

As end of life care has become more complex, families are faced with more difficult decisions than they used to be. It isn’t as simple as “pulling the plug” or not. Breathing can be assisted. Food and water can be given via a feeding tube. Medication can be focused on healing or soothing. And sedation can allow a body to heal or atrophy. If there is no document in place which lays out the wishes of the person who is incapacitated, heated arguments between family members over the myriad healthcare choices that must be made are virtually guaranteed. Once battle lines are drawn, the side that loses the argument will feel shut out, and may literally be shut out.

Whether the law is changed to allow relatives to petition for visitation without seeking full guardianship or not, the smart thing to do is draft an estate plan that includes a power of attorney for healthcare which designates one point-person who can make decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. And to craft a living will, which gives that person some directions and information about what choices you would make if you could make them yourself. These documents can also specify that no family members shall be denied access to your bedside.

There’s obviously no way to craft a legal plan that can prevent your family members from ever fighting, but a little bit of forethought can prevent some of the most bitter and heart wrenching disputes.

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