21st May 2014
I grew up listening to “American Top 40 Countdown” almost every Sunday. Casey Kasem has a very distinguished voice and listening to some great music was always a good time. Now, he has a type of dementia called Lewy Body Disease, and he is continuing to get worse over time. Over the past year, he’s once again been thrust into the spotlight. First, it was dealing with the children not being able to see him, as his new wife and the kids really didn’t get along. Then, recently, he “disappeared” only to be found on “vacation” in Washington state, sparking a media frenzy in the process.
So what can we take out of this to help us in better dealing with the aging process, especially when it comes to family and friends?
Second marriages require special planning. There are a lot of things that need to be addressed to avoid problems. First, the spouse is not your kid’s mom or dad. So where will dad be buried when he dies? What about medical directives and things like power of attorney … who is in control as we age and stop functioning in the way we used to? This requires a lot of planning to address the issues before they get to a critical stage.
Everyone is right and everyone is wrong! I understand that the kids want to see their dad and make sure he is OK. I understand that the wife has problems with his family and would rather avoid them. She is his spouse, who he chose when he was coherent, and they are the kids who have been around with him for their entire lives. These conversations are extremely emotional, generally not rational and can create even greater tensions as the situation continues.
It’s always about money, even if it isn’t. Estate planning, especially in a second marriage, can require a lot of thought and effort. Does everything go to the surviving spouse, does it get split with the kids, does it go to the wife first, and what’s left goes to the kids? If it goes to the spouse directly, the kids generally see that as you just stole from them. If it goes to the spouse first, then what is left over goes to them, then every dollar she spends is seen as taking money directly out of out their pockets, slowly, for the rest of her life. Either way, there is a lot of tension that does not get better over time. Even if the kids do not care about money, they care that the spouse (who is not their mom) is getting it.
Never underestimate the ability for things to get screwed up. We often do not understand the social dynamics of the family and how a mother or father can really hold things together and keep the family unified. That changes radially if they are not around or coherent. There is a gap in the authority figure and generally a power struggle to see how that space is filled. That gap, combined with a spouse who is not your mother, generally leads to a lot of conflict.
There are many second marriages that are perfect. The families all get along, everything works well, and everybody is happy. There are also many second marriages where the family issues are a constant struggle for everyone involved. So how can you avoid this, or at least a lot of this? Mainly by planning and by communication with the family.
For planning, you need to speak with a good estate attorney and financial planner and discuss the 500-pound gorilla in the room. What happens with the money, how do you make sure that the spouse is taken care of but still include the family, etc. What about heath care options and power of attorney? You really need to discuss this in advance to make sure that the family is included, and that the spouse does not end up destitute—or with all of the money!
Finally, you need to speak to your family when you are competent to discuss your wishes … and generally I prefer that everyone is in the room at the same time. The message to the family and the spouse needs to be consistent. Having mini conversations with family members means that everyone’s interpretation of the situation can be totally different. We are all competent and alert until we are not … then it’s too late and things become way too subjective.
In the case of Casey Kasem, no matter what happens, there are no winners here—everyone loses. Don’t let this happen to you. Plan and communicate!