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Last week, American broadcasting icon, Casey Kasem, died after a very public battle between his wife and his adult children from a previous marriage.  The public battle appears to have started with allegations that Kasem’s wife was preventing his children from visiting and ended with his wife accusing Kasem’s daughter of murdering him when she asked to enforce his 2007 health care advance directive. This titillating drama even included raw meat and Biblical references.

It is difficult to see someone who has lived an amazing life meeting with such an undignified end.  While Kasem’s last few months were sensational, his end-of-life circumstances are not typical.  Advance directives such as a living will, when completed while an individual is competent, are used to minimize the drama and trauma of end-of-life decisions on both the individual and their family.

Kasem’s instructions, in his 2007 advance directive, were to stop life prolonging procedures in case of severe suffering, and if being kept alive would result in “a mere biological existence, devoid of cognitive function.”  It was this directive that ultimately led the judge to authorize termination of the health care processes that were keeping him alive, even over the objections of his wife.

Because Kasem was so much a part of American culture, the topic of advance directives has become a topic of discussion.  It is events like this that prompt many families to discuss what they want to happen when they lack capacity and are dying.  But many families discuss these issues as they will only affect other people, not them.  Even fewer will put pen to paper and commit their directives to writing.

Have you discussed these issues with your family? Does your family know your wishes? Will your care be in the hands of someone you trust?  If you would like an explanation of the legal documents that you might need to complete to make sure your wishes are carried out, visit our website.  There you will find Advance Planning Tools at a Glance.  If you are having difficulty knowing what you need to talk about with your family, answer the questions in our Long Term Planning Questions questionnaire.

In Kasem’s situation, his advance directive did not prevent a family conflict, but it certainly shortened the duration.  In many cases, planning and communication can help families avoid conflict altogether.