OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - The daughters of two late celebrities are seeking easier ways for family and friends to visit ailing elders, and have brought separate legislation to Washington state in memory of their fathers’ end-of-life struggles.
Their stories are similar: Kerri Kasem and Catherine Falk were blocked from visiting Casey Kasem and Peter Falk, who had serious illnesses, due to personal disagreements and had to take legal action to see them.
The women are independently working in a swath of states to provide a way for close friends and relatives to visit an ailing or incapacitated elder without filing for guardianship.
Kasem has introduced legislation in 11 other states this year, fought for previously passed legislation in Texas and California, and lobbied for a successful bill in Iowa. Falk has introduced legislation in more than 20 states this year.
In Washington, their proposals haven’t found universal support. Some say new legislation is unnecessary and current law protecting vulnerable elders is strong.
Radio personality Casey Kasem had dementia, and his three adult children from a previous marriage and Jean Kasem, his second wife, were embroiled in a long legal battle over his care. Kasem, who was also the voice of Shaggy in Scooby-Doo, characters on Sesame Street and a host of other cartoons, died at 82 in Gig Harbor in 2014.
“Everyone who loved my father was kept from him,” Kerri Kasem said at a Jan. 20 hearing before a House panel.
Actor Peter Falk starred in the TV series “Columbo.” He became incapacitated in 2008 due to dementia, possibly related to Alzheimer’s disease. Catherine Falk eventually battled his long-time second wife Shera Falk in court to win occasional visits with her father, who died in 2011 in California.
The two women are taking different approaches in Washington state.
Falk’s bill, Senate Bill 6235, says a guardian can’t restrict an incapacitated person’s right to visit and communicate with anybody. The consent of an incapacitated person is presumed based on their history with people, such as close relatives with positive relationships. The guardian could block visitation if they can show good cause. The bill would also require guardians to notify close relatives and others if the incapacitated person moves to a new home, spends time in the hospital or dies, among other things.
Republican state Sen. Mike Padden, from Spokane Valley is the bill’s sponsor.
Kasem’s main bill, House Bill 2401, lets a person petition a court for visitation rights. Its primary sponsor is state Rep. Linda Kochmar, R-Federal Way. Another proposal Kasem is behind, House Bill 2402, requires a guardian to tell close relatives and friends if an elder spends significant time in the hospital or has died.
Falk’s bill only addresses visitation of incapacitated people because law enforcement and others can settle family disagreements, she said in a phone interview. But Kasem’s petition bill includes visitation for everyone. In a phone interview, Kasem said police didn’t help her family dispute.
Some at the hearings said they weren’t sure any of the bills are necessary. The state’s law protecting people in guardianships is strong, according to the Washington Association of Professional Guardians.
Lawmakers shouldn’t “overly complicate what is already a fundamentally good law in this state,” testified Steve Lindstrom, an association consultant, at the hearing for Kasem’s petition bill, calling Washington “certainly a leader of the pack when it comes to protection of incapacitated persons.”
Changes to Washington’s law that protects vulnerable adults needs more discussion by “a broad coalition of stakeholders,” instead of pushing legislation through in this year’s short, 60-day session, said Amy Freeman an attorney for the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Patricia Hunter at the hearing for Kasem’s petition bill.
None of the bills have been scheduled for a vote.
Kasem has expressed interest in combining efforts with Falk or others pushing guardianship reform legislation. Both say the legal process they endured to visit their fathers was unnecessary and too expensive for the average person.
“There’s no help from the law,” Kasem said.
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