Stories about celebrities and their estates can offer important lessons to the rest of us not-so-famous people. Take, for instance, Casey Kasem and Tom Clancy.
Famed radio icon Casey Kasem’s sad final months before his death in June of this year illustrate the importance of having incapacity planning in place during your lifetime. The saga began in early May 2014 when his three adult children from a prior marriage claimed that his second wife was preventing them from seeing their father, who suffered from advanced Parkinson’s disease and dementia and was living in a convalescent hospital in Santa Monica, California. On May 7, his wife checked him out of the hospital against medical advice and took him to Washington State, although his whereabouts were unknown for several days after he was taken from the California hospital, prompting him to be reported missing. He was found staying with his wife at the Seattle area home of friends of his wife around May 13. In the meantime, his oldest daughter had sought and was awarded temporary conservatorship over him in a California court. A Washington State court set a hearing for June 6 to determine how much authority the daughter would have in Washington, but granted her access to him and allowed her to take him to a doctor prior to the hearing. There was much more drama between the children and wife, including a meat throwing incident, before Kasem passed away in a Washington hospital on June 15.
The animosity that can arise between children from a first marriage and the second spouse is, unfortunately, something we see all too often across all socioeconomic, racial and religious sectors of the population, not just celebrities. There is no easy answer for dealing with the powerful emotions on both sides in that situation. Perhaps if the spouse in the middle acknowledges the situation while living and can reassure both sides of love and fair treatment, before and after death, the tension might be soothed. In any event, from Kasem’s tragic tale, it is evident that having your loved ones care for you at the end of life is a difficult and emotional process, especially when disputes arise among the parties. Putting in place a durable power of attorney and naming the person of your choice as your agent to handle your financial matters and a health care power of attorney to make medical decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself can resolve potential issues without the expensive intervention of the court system. In some situations a funded revocable living trust naming a neutral, independent trustee can be used for managing your assets during your lifetime in the case of incapacity and after death, so that neither the spouse nor the children feel slighted and decisions can be made in your best interests.
In what may not be the final ignominy for Casey (the dollars have yet to be divided), his wife took control of his body after his death and moved him to a nearby funeral home where an autopsy was performed at her request. When the children went to the funeral home on July 16 to request their own autopsy to pursue claims of elder abuse against the wife, they found his remains had been surreptitiously removed and once again Casey was missing. His wife had taken his remains to Montreal, and then Norway, planning to bury him there. The children claim that Casey wanted to be buried at the famous Forest Lawn cemetery in California, and that neither Kasem nor his wife has any connection to Norway. At last report, Norwegian officials were seeking their own legal advice concerning the request to bury him in Oslo. Alabama has a statute that allows you to designate who should be the person in charge of disposing of your remains. That is an important piece of planning to complete in a situation where there may be conflict between the children and a second spouse.
On October 30, Metlife interpled $2 million of life insurance benefits on the basis that the wife and children have accused each other of having a role in Casey’s demise that would disqualify them from entitlement to the proceeds.
Bestselling author Tom Clancy had none of the Casey Kasem drama surrounding his death and burial in October 2013, but he too had a second wife who is now at odds with his adult children from a first marriage over who bears the taxes on his $83 million dollar estate.
The Personal Representative is Mr. Clancy’s lawyer (who wrote his Will), and he has determined that the spouse’s share of the estate must bear $6 million of the reported $16 million tax bill. The spouse disputes that tax apportionment and has filed suit to shift the entire tax burden to the children.
The lessons here are that tax apportionment is an important consideration, and your planning documents must make that clear. If the marital share is to bear a share of the estate tax, which is not the most usual case, consider adding some language of acknowledgment in your estate planning document that you understand that the taxes will be borne in that fashion, and it is your wish, even if that may not be the most tax efficient result at the first death. Tax payment issues can arise in any estate, and deciding whose shares bear the tax burden is just as important as directing how to divide your estate. Once again, in this classic conflict scenario, if the spouse caught between the two sides had let the surviving spouse and children all know ahead of time what to expect, this public and no doubt expensive fight might have been avoided.