- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 31, 2016

ANNAPOLIS | Kerri Kasem, daughter of late radio host Casey Kasem, is on a mission to try to make sure that what happened to her doesn’t happen to anyone else.

Prevented from visiting her dying father, she has testified at seven statehouses — including those in Virginia and Maryland last week — and has lobbied in six others in an effort to get state laws changed so that adult children can claim visitation rights.

Ms. Kasem said she and her siblings from her father’s first marriage were barred from seeing him by her stepmother, actress Jean Thompson Kasem.

“Starting a year before my dad died, his wife literally just said, ‘You’re going to have to get used to not seeing your dad anymore,’” Ms. Kasem said.

She went to the police and state agencies in California to try to win the right to visit her father. When that failed, she went to the courts but found that she had to apply for guardianship in order to get visitation. After eight months and $345,000 in legal fees, she won her case — but she said those without her means shouldn’t have to face that.

“Visitation should not be for the 1 percent,” Ms. Kasem told the Maryland General Assembly on Thursday.

Bills have been introduced in Maryland and Virginia that would require guardians to notify disabled persons’ families if they have been hospitalized for three or more days or have died. Guardians also would have to notify families about funeral and burial arrangements.

What excites advocates is a provision that would add enforcing visitation rights to the list of things guardians must do.

In many states guardians are allowed to use their charges’ estates and choose who can and cannot see them. This makes it easy for guardians to take advantage of mentally incompetent people who want to see their families but are prevented from doing so by the persons in charge of caring for them, Ms. Kasem said.

This would solve a problem for a small percentage of people, but it’s necessary because not many people who have been barred from seeing their parents have the time and money to fight guardians in the courts, said Delegate Sid Saab, an Anne Arundel Republican who is sponsoring legislation.

“If they’re on their deathbed, they don’t have time,” Mr. Saab said. “They have the right to determine who should visit them. It’s more about visitation, it’s not about guardianship. Even if they are under a guardianship, they should have rights to see who they want to see.”

Trying to see her father was a “nightmare,” Ms. Kasem said. She said her stepmother, who had been married to her father for 44 years, moved him from California to Nevada, then to Washington state to get around the guardianship order, and never informed the family where she was moving him.

Ms. Kasem says the constant moving sped up her father’s death.

When Kasem died in 2014 at the age of 82, he was cremated. Ms. Kasem still doesn’t know where the ashes are.

She said 12 states have bills to help establish visitation rights, and similar laws have passed in California, Texas and Iowa, but this is not enough.

When Ms. Kasem launched Kasem Cares, a nonprofit to lobby for visitation bills in all 50 states, she was inundated with thousands of letters from people who had followed what had happened to her father and had similar stories. She estimates that tens of thousands of people are struggling to see their parents.

She said Virginia lawmakers were receptive, and the bill already has cleared a Senate committee there.

But in Maryland she ran into trouble in the House, where delegates thought she was criticizing the guardianship process. She said the issue is not about changing guardianship but about ensuring that guardians are pushed to allow family visitation.

“If someone is blocking someone, especially someone who wants to see their kids, like my father did, they should be given visitation,” she said. “That’s it.”

The hardest part of her nationwide crusade has been finding lawmakers willing to take on the legislation.

In Maryland, Mr. Saab reached out to her. They share Lebanese heritage, and Mr. Saab said he had followed the press attention of her situation.

The bill has its detractors. Some senior advocacy groups oppose the legislation, saying it would burden public guardians already weighed down with tasks.

The Maryland Senior Citizens Action Network said lawmakers should exclude court-appointed guardians if they want to enact the legislation.

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