Casey Kasem died June 15th, and now his daughter claims that Mr. Kasem’s body is missing (as reported by Jane Caffrey with CNN). Kasem’s daughters and his wife (Jean Kasem) were engaged in a contentious battle over control of Kasem prior to his death. Now that Kasem has passed, Jean Kasem has moved Kasem’s body from the mortuary where it was kept without telling his daughters. So the fight continues on even with who makes funeral arrangements and how the body is ultimately laid to rest
Seems ridiculous, but it happens more often than you may think. So who has the ultimate control over a person’s body after death? That can be a tricky question to answer.
Let’s start with California’s Health and Safety code that provides what is supposed to be an orderly way to determine who has control of a decedent’s remains after death. Under Health and Safety Code Section 7100, the following people, in this order, have the power to control the disposition of remains:
1. An agent given that power under a Health Care Directive.
2. The surviving spouse, if competent to make decisions.
3. The decedent’s child, or a majority of children if the decedent had more than one child. However, a group of children smaller than the majority can act if they cannot get in contact with the other children.
4. And then parents, siblings of the decadent, and next of kin, in that order.
The problem comes from a disagreement either between the surviving spouse and the agent under the Health Care Directive, or between multiple children. I have seen both and it always is an ugly fight.
In Kasem’s case, he had a surviving spouse, but she is not the mother of Kasem’s children, which is a natural breeding ground for conflict in many cases. Add to that a Health Care Directive that named Kasem’s daughter as agent. That’s enough to pit spouse against daughter in this mess. And in some cases there can even be a competing Health Care Directive signed shortly before death that further complicates the problem.
The result: a contentious fight between family members attempting to control the remains and disposition of the decedent’s body. Who wins and who loses? That’s up for the Court to decide. What started as a fight during Kasem’s lifetime now will be a drawn out Court affair lasting long after he is gone. So much for resting in peace.