Celebrity Trusts & Estates: Casey Kasem Conservatorship Battle Highlights the Need for Clarity Regarding Control over Visitation

Family Drama

Casey Kasem’s three adult children from his first marriage have spent the last several months in L.A. County Superior Court fighting their stepmother, Jean, for control of their father’s personal affairs through a conservatorship proceeding.

Casey’s daughter Julie originally filed a petition seeking to be appointed conservator of her father based on claims that Jean had been isolating the beloved American Top 40 host since he became essentially bedridden this past summer due to advanced Parkinson’s Disease. The petition alleged that their stepmother (best known for playing the wife of Nick Tortelli on “Cheers”) has refused their visits despite their father’s requests. Since such accusations of isolation are considered a form of elder abuse in California, Jean naturally denied these claims, saying that unspecified “disturbing” conduct by the stepchildren would make visits in the family home an “intolerable and unpleasant experience for us all, including specifically [for] Casey.”

Despite the accusations of abuse, the children’s request for an emergency conservatorship was denied on November 19, 2013. At that hearing, the judge indicated that Casey was “receiving either good to excellent care” and found “no good cause for a temporary conservatorship.” However, the independent court investigator’s report confirmed that Casey wants to see his children. In light of this, the court instructed each side to set aside its “bad blood” and attempt to resolve their problems. Predictably, Jean’s initial offer to allow the children to see their father for one hour per month under heavy security was rejected by the children. Jean and Julie announced at the December 20, 2013 hearing that they have reached a settlement regarding visitation, though the details were not revealed. Casey’s other daughter, Kerri, has so far been unwilling to agree to the restrictions Jean wants to place on visitation and says she may file a petition to see her father without those restrictions.

Uphill Legal Battle

Establishing a conservatorship is not any easy feat and even if one of Casey’s children is successful in convincing the court of the need for a conservatorship, that person still has to address the issue of who should be appointed the conservator and what powers the conservator should have. Not surprisingly, the extent to which the conservator can control the conservatee’s visits with family members is frequently a source of conflict in conservatorship proceedings. For the Kasems, this issue seems to be driving the desire for a conservatorship and court oversight.

Interestingly, legislation was recently enacted that addresses a conservator’s right to control visitation. Under this new law, a conservator will not automatically have the power to control visitation. Assembly Bill 937, which became effective January 1, 2014, requires a conservator to first obtain a court order to be able to control such personal rights of the conservatee as visitation, telephone calls, and mail. A detailed analysis of AB 937 will shortly follow. For now, it is safe to say that if visitation continues to be an issue with the Kasem children, we can expect the battle for a conservatorship to continue, as well as a great deal of resistance on the issue of whether or not to grant the conservator the power to control visitation under the now-amended Probate Code section 2351.