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Casey Kasem & Larry King: Celebrity Estate Planning Disasters

celebrity estate planning

Celebrities entertain and amuse us.

And following their lives can be so exciting.

There is so much to focus on: celebrity fashions, weight gain and weight loss, endless marriages and divorces, their luxury lifestyles….and on and on.

But celebrities do more than simply entertain and titillate our imaginations.

They provide life examples we can learn from.

Some are good examples, and some…not so good.

Celebrity estate planning can be very informative.

Take two cases of celebrity estate planning that are on point: the estates of Casey Kasem and Larry King.

Casey Kasem & Larry King: Celebrity Estate Planning Disasters

While both wonderful people and fascinating celebrities, Casey Kasem and Larry King are examples of celebrity estate planning disasters.

Casey Kasem – Several Marriages Plus an Incomplete Estate Plan Leads to Allegations of Body Snatching and Years of Bitter Litigation

Casey Kasem was an American disc jockey, actor, and radio star. For years he hosted the show, American Top 40. He was also famous as the voice of “Shaggy,” Scooby-Doo’s pal in the Scooby-Doo series.

He died at the age of 82 after suffering from a rare form of dementia called Lewy Body Dementia since 2007.

Casey Kasem’s death in 2014 sparked a bitter and highly contentious legal battle between his children from his first marriage and his second wife that lasted for years and included embarrassing and acrimonious allegations of elder abuse causing his death, and even theft of Casey Kasem’s body.

The heated and public fights between Casey Kasem’s second wife and his children resulted in criminal investigations into Casey’s death as well as several lawsuits.

In addition to a $2 million dollar trust, at the heart of the controversy was a bitter battle over who should make the medical decisions affecting Casey Kasem before his death. Fights between Casey Kasem’s children and his second wife over what his medical care should be, and how he should be taken care of, ended in criminal allegations as well as civil lawsuits alleging wrongful death, kidnapping and theft of his corpse.

Police investigations found no foul play or abuse, but that did not stop the families from waging intense and bitter legal battles against each other for years.

It turns out that Casey Kasem had signed a health care directive naming his daughter, Kerri, as his agent for medical decisions. But in 2013, when he was suffering and sick, his second wife (who had been married to him for 34 years by that time) refused to allow his children to see him.

Ultimately, his daughter Kerri petitioned the California court to be appointed her father’s conservator (or guardian) because, despite having the 2007 health care directive, Casey’s wife Jean would not let Casey’s children see him and would not let Kerri make any medical decisions for him.

Shortly before the hearing on the conservatorship, Casey’s wife, Jean, removed him from the nursing home where he had been. Ultimately, the court awarded Kerri the right to make healthcare decisions for Casey, and she approved the termination of his life support.

After his death, Casey Kasem’s children filed a wrongful death suit against Jean, alleging abuse and neglect.

Then, his body was removed from the funeral home in Washington against his children’s wishes and without their knowledge.

The drama raged on, with Casey Kasem not being buried for months.

So, what happened here?

It’s unclear, but Casey Kasem’s situation certainly points to the importance of having a durable power of attorney and health care directive. These simple documents are a normal part of every comprehensive estate plan. Estate planning lawyers near you can draft one to protect your assets.

A health care directive and durable power of attorney let you appoint someone to make all necessary medical and financial decisions for you should you become incapacitated.

Without these estate planning documents, no one is in charge. Which frequently leads to expensive and time-consuming legal battles over who should make medical decisions and who should control the money.

Why didn’t Casey Kasem update his 2007 health care directive and change it to his wife of 34 years?

Who knows?

But apparently, she either wasn’t aware of it or simply refused to honor his wishes.

Which tells us something else that is important in estate planning. Prepare your estate plan with an estate attorney near you, and then talk to your family about your decisions and wishes.

You just might prevent an extended and acrimonious family feud.

Larry King—Seven Marriages, A $50 Million Dollar Estate, and a Handwritten Will End in Bitter Litigation

Larry King, the well-known reporter and celebrity interviewer, was no stranger to estate planning. Divorced six times, he had changed his Last Will and Testament (“Will”) many times. Before his death, he had filed for divorce from his seventh wife, Shawn Southwick. That divorce was not finalized before his death.

At his death in 2021, Larry King’s probate estate was reportedly worth $2 million, but he had additional trust assets worth around $144 million.

Almost immediately after his death, one of Larry King’s children, Larry King Jr., petitioned the California court to be appointed special administrator of Larry King’s probate estate.

In support of his petition, Larry King Jr. produced a handwritten (“holographic”) Will dated 2019, in which Larry King (allegedly) left everything to his five children (2 of whom had died previously)—completely writing his estranged wife, Shawn, out of the Will.

Not surprisingly, Shawn filed an objection to Larry King Jr.’s petition. In her objection, Shawn alleged, among other things, that the handwritten Will was invalid and had been procured by undue influence, even though it had been written two months after he had filed for divorce from Shawn.

Shawn also alleged that Larry King’s 2015 will, in which she was named executor of the estate and trustee of the Larry King Family Trust, was the only valid and enforceable Will.

And so the bitter and expensive legal battles began.

Notably, the handwritten Will and the legal battle surrounding it applied only to Larry King’s probate estate, which was worth about $2 million. It did not apply to assets in his trust, which were “the tip of the iceberg” in this estate and, according to estimates, worth anywhere from over $50 million to $144 million.

It took several years, but the dispute over Larry King’s $2 million was finally settled confidentially between the parties.

So, what do we learn from Larry King’s estate disaster?

Do not, do NOT, do your own estate planning.

Don’t do it.

Don’t.

Estate planning is complex and requires experience and expertise to do correctly.

Need a Will? Hire a will attorney near you.

Need to change your Will after several marriages and divorces? Hire a will attorney.

Want to change the terms of your Will? Don’t write it yourself. Speak to an experienced will attorney.

Larry King understood the importance of changing his Will after each of six prior divorces, but he completely blew it when he tried to write his own Will (or codicil) in 2019—if indeed that is what happened.

The single most important thing you must do when it comes to estate planning is to hire a professional to ensure the validity of your documents.

Working with a professional wills and estate lawyer near you will save time, money, headaches, heartaches and unnecessary expensive litigation among your family when you are gone.

 

Comprehensive Estate Plans Done Right.

Celebrity estate planning can be informative, but helping individuals plan their estate and navigate the probate process is what the estate attorneys at SJF Law Group do. We provide individualized estate plans, expertly guide individuals through the complex probate process, and capably handle all aspects of the creation, administration, and settlement of trusts. Our Fort Lauderdale estate planning attorneys support clients in Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach County, FL.

Contact us here or email us at [email protected].

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