Conservatorship – By Elizabeth Hartley
When American Top 40 legend Casey Kasem’s daughter, Kerri Kasem, appeared in front of a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge in May, she told the Court she believed her 82 year old father had been “kidnapped”.
Prior to the disappearance the radio icon, who suffers from Lewy body dementia, had been residing in a Santa Monica nursing home receiving 24-hour medical care.
Kerri Kasem feared that removal from the nursing facility allegedly by Kasem’s wife, with whom Kasem’s children have been in a long-time feud, threatened his health and safety. Kerri Casem was immediately granted a temporary medical conservatorship, filed a missing persons report with the Santa Monica Police Department, and Kasem was ultimately located in Silverdale, Washington with his wife Jean.
Jean Kasem had been shutting out Casey Kasem’s children and relatives from visiting or speaking to him prior to the kidnapping incident. After not being able to see their father for approximately five (5) months, Kasem’s daughters Kerri and Julie finally discovered that he was living at the Berkeley East Convalescent Hospital and were able to visit their father. Hours later, Jean Kasem removed the radio legend from the nursing home against doctor’s orders and took him across state lines. Casey Kasem was discovered with his wife in Washington State at the home of friends, days later.
Casey Kasem’s public family saga is an extreme example of how contentious things can get when disagreements as to the health care of an older family member arise. Medical Conservatorship is a legal concept in the United States where a guardian is appointed by a court to manage the healthcare decision-making for an incapacitated person. An individual is determined incapacitated when an attending physician finds to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the patient lacks ability to understand and appreciate the benefits, risks and consequences of proposed health care. People must be able to make an informed decision as to health care, and if they cannot, then conservatorship approved by the court is the proper legal construct to pursue. If that individual already has in place an advanced health care directive, the decision-making about the individual’s medical care in the event of sudden incapacity, or incapacity due to old age, is already taken care of.
But oftentimes, there is no directive document. That is where the conservatorship arises. Conservatorship is a legal arrangement that requires appointment by a court, granting authority to a legal decision-maker to act on behalf of the incapacitated family member. In addition, a conservatorship provides a legal process where major healthcare decisions, for example removal from life support, must be approved by the court. In the absence of a healthcare directive, conservatorship provides family members a clear legal determination of authority when it comes to medical care of an incapacitated family member.
Of course there are disadvantages to the legal conservatorship over an advanced healthcare directive. Conservatorships can be time-consuming, often requiring a lawyer, extensive paperwork, and can still incite discord amongst family members who disagree about their loved one’s care. It is important to remember that appointment as conservator is not an honor, but a serious responsibility and duty.
An advanced healthcare directive, also known as a healthcare power of attorney, is an extremely important document that should be considered before it is ever needed, as it appoints the health care decision-maker early on and can prepare family members before illness or accident arise. Every adult should have a serious discussion with a qualified attorney about drafting this important document. It can save time, money and heartache down the road should the unexpected happen.