The passing of Casey Kasem last June left many fans mourning the renowned radio host and iconic voice of Scooby Doo’s beloved slacker, Shaggy. After counting down America’s Top 40 hit songs for decades, he left behind a fortune of $80 million and, tragically, the seeds of a storm that would engulf his family. A torrent of recriminations erupted between his surviving spouse and his three sons from a prior marriage, miring his estate deep in a legal feud before his body was even laid to rest. This is why I do what I do–to keep your family and many others out of court and brought together by love, not torn apart by conflict.
In 1980, Kasem took a woman 22 years his junior, Jean, to be his bride. One child was born of the marriage, named Liberty. There were also three more children from Casey’s first marriage: Kerri, Mike, and Julie. Reports show that even in the months prior to his death, any family unity that had existed was fast breaking down. Events unfolded to include a missing persons report filed with the police and a legal battle over Kasem’s care, and then after his death another family dispute over his remains, including a private investigation as to his body’s whereabouts.
It may read like a story straight out of an overly-dramatic soap opera but the series of incredible events have proven all too tragic for Casey’s children. Their father’s remains lie beyond their care while the money he intended for them sits locked up in the court system–and likely will remain there for years to come.
Situations like this can be avoided by even the most rudimentary estate planning. Done sufficiently in advance of death or incapacitation, solutions can be found that all sides can agree to. Unfortunately, this scenario is not entirely uncommon when an older man takes a new, significantly younger wife and has children from a previous marriage.
The Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch recently released a powerful analysis, naming four of the standard estate planning tools that would have gone a long way toward avoiding this all-too public drama:
Revocable trust. Everyone–whether their fortune amounts to $80 million or $80 thousand–wants to see their wealth put in the hands of those they love. By putting these assets in a revocable trust, the owner’s wishes will be protected and, so long as he or she retains the legal capacity to make financial decisions, the specifics can be changed to match those wishes as they evolve. The assets are dispersed among the beneficiaries as documented in the trust upon the owner’s death, while avoiding the very public trouble of a probate. A trust provides a far more secure form of wealth transfer than a will, as a will is far more easily thrown into contest by an objecting party.
Life insurance. It can be a good idea to reduce potential for friction by separating the benefits going to different groups entirely. For example, leaving the proceeds of a life insurance policy to provide for a surviving spouse while giving the estate to the children of another marriage, or vice versa.
QTIP trust. No, we don’t mean cotton swabs. With a Qualified Terminable Interest Property (QTIP) trust, a surviving spouse can also be provided for incrementally over a period of time by a separate set of assets that will then be passed on to the children from the first marriage, or whoever else is chosen, upon that spouse’s death.
Family meeting. Of course, the cheapest way for a family to avoid a feud is to communicate openly. Everyone should be aware of their beneficiary status and what steps come next following the passing of the estate owner. Estate planning attorneys are the ideal mediator for these meetings. Given their wealth of experience and incomparable knowledge of the law, an agreeable resolution for all parties is sure to be easier, particularly if there is any potential for conflict.
One of the main goals of our law practice is to help families like yours plan for the safe, successful transfer of wealth to the next generation without conflict or concern. Call our office today at (612) 206-3701 or fill out our contact form to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about this in a family estate planning consultation, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family to ensure your legacy of love and financial security.
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