Adult wards have rights, too

By Diane Wilson, managing attorney, Iowa Legal Aid

Kari Kasem is the daughter of Casey Kasem. He was a famous radio DJ on American Top 40. He was also the voice of “Shaggy” in Scooby Doo. Casey Kasem suffered from advanced Parkinson’s disease and was isolated by his guardian. His guardian refused to allow Kari and her siblings to visit their ailing father. They were forced to go to court to remove the guardian. They asked the Court to let them take over control of their father’s care. Kari and her family were successful and eventually saw their father in his last days.

This “Hollywood” guardianship case helped change Iowa law. Kari Kasem made the right to visit with a ward her mission and came to Iowa to lobby for a new law.

Effective July 1, 2015, Iowa law was changed to state that wards have the right to “communication, visitation, or interaction with other persons.” Under the new law, wards have the right to visits from family members and others they want to see. This law also helps people who want to visit wards, but are denied by the guardian. Nursing homes and other care facilities have found themselves caught in the middle. The new law helps them also.

A guardian can still place some reasonable restrictions on communication and visitation with others. The guardian has to get a court order to deny all communication and visitation. Iowa Code §633.635.

What if wards are unable to say that they want someone to visit? The guardian should assume that the ward wants to have contact with the visitor, if the ward had a relationship with the visitor. 633.637A states that “If an adult ward is unable to give express consent to such communication, visitation, or interaction with a person due to a physical or mental condition, consent of an adult ward may be presumed by a guardian or a court based on an adult ward’s prior relationship with such person.”

What if the guardian still refuses to allow people to visit a ward? The ward or the visitor can ask a judge to allow the visitation. The court can deny visitation only if the guardian shows good cause.

Iowa Legal Aid provides free legal assistance to low-income Iowans in all 99 counties with civil legal problems involving basic necessities and safety. Information about civil legal issues is available on Iowa Legal Aid’s websites, www.iowalegalaid.org and www.probono.net/iowa. Probono.net/iowa is a free, members-only site that provides a comprehensive collection of information on legal topics, upcoming events including continuing legal education opportunities, and resources on civil law practice for members of Iowa’s justice community.