California has made some important changes to its Probate Code regarding guardianships, conservatorships and elder abuse that you should be aware of. Up until now, in California and most other states, a wife or husband had the legal right to bar visitation to the other spouse’s adult children who might want to visit them. An ailing spouse may have dementia or Alzheimer’s and not have a voice in the matter. Even with a conservatorship or guardianship, the person in charge could prevent those visitations. Often times a relationship between someone’s adult children and a new spouse can be noxious. This has been a gray area in the law that has affected thousands of extended families.
Specifically, these new California rules relate to visitation rights and are a result of the bitter battle a few years ago between the children of the celebrity American Top 40-radio host Casey Kasem and Kasem’s second wife, Jean. When Kasem became ill with dementia and a form of Parkinson’s disease, his second wife blocked visitation to his three children from a previous marriage. His children barely saw him during the year before he died in 2014. According to newspaper reports, the relationship between the second spouse, Jean Kasem, and Kasem’s children was very toxic.
In order to try and see her father, daughter Kerri Kasem says she tried to get help from various California agencies such as the police and other state organizations but no one could help her. She then went to court having been advised that she would have to apply for a guardianship. Eight months and about $350,000 in legal fees later, she obtained a guardianship and won the right to visit her father. Making things even more complicated, however, was the fact that Kasem’s wife moved the ailing Kasem from California to Nevada and then to Washington, apparently in an effort to evade visitation efforts and any court orders. She would not tell his children where their dad was.
Kasem died a few months after Kerri obtained her guardianship. His wife moved the body to Norway for burial without an autopsy and did not tell his children. The children then accused her of elder abuse, shabby medical care and wrongful death alleging that all the moving around hastened his death. No charges of elder abuse were ever brought. The children then filed a civil suit.
Since then Kerri Kasem has become a leading advocate in attempting to change guardianship and conservatorship laws in many states as well as rules modulating what a new spouse can do with respect to visitation. In many states, a guardian can prevent persons, even family and loved ones, from seeing a parent, particularly if that parent is mentally impaired by old age or disease.
Kerri Kasem maintains that this problem affects many thousands of people in the U.S. and unless laws change, persons with limited funds without access to the courts cannot see an aging loved one.
In California, the California Probate Code has been amended to provide that not only does a person who is the subject of a guardianship or conservatorship continue to have “personal rights” such as the “right to receive visitors,” but that the court may issue an order that “grants the conservator the power to limit or enforce the conservatee’s rights, or that “directs the conservator to allow those visitors, telephone calls and personal mail.”
The California Probate Code also added provisions expressly providing that conservators shall mail notice of a conservatee’s death to any spouse, domestic partner or, in essence, any person who has “requested special notice,” and imposing a similar duty of notice regarding death of a principal, for certain agents acting under specified powers in a power of attorney for health care.
Other states are now following suit with similar provisions.
If you find yourself in a situation like this where communication has broken down and visitation is being prevented, it is wise to consult a knowledgeable probate or estate planning attorney. Some of these situations can be worked out in mediation but if all else fails, a court procedure may be necessary.