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Fairfax County siblings fight to see father after guardian terminated visitation rights

Kerri Kasem. (Photo, ABC7)

Adult children find themselves permanently banned from ever visiting their ailing parents because they asked too many questions about nursing home care. As the ABC7 I-Team discovered: It's legal and happening more than you may think.

Guardianship is a difficult decision for a family to make. When adult children need help in making financial decisions for ailing parents, many turn to the courts. But in some cases, the court turns on them, separating families in their final days together.

TERMINATED ALTOGETHER

Some of the last happy family photos of Paul Skarlatos were taken on his 80th birthday. The retired naval aviator has three children who live close to him in Fairfax County, Virginia: Liz, Mike and Matt. Paul suffered a stroke, and now lives in an assisted living facility. The Skarlatos children began to have concerns about the care their father received.

“Solid food for a man with his condition, that could be ingested into his lungs. He could get pneumonia. It could be very serious. He was given solid foods,” Liz Skarlatos said.

A court appointed guardian wrote ground rules for the Skarlatos family to visit their father. The guardian writes: "Do not ask any questions of the staff of the various companies that care for your father." Matt asked questions anyway.

“When I repeatedly asked for assistance in getting these inquiries addressed, they essentially took my rights away to see my father,” Matt said. “I've been banned for 6 months.”

This happened because Matt emailed the nursing home administrator about concerns of his father’s care. The guardian warned Skarlatos not to do that.

A court appointed guardian wrote Jan. 11, 2018 to the Skarlatos children, “On July 26th, 2017, I learned you violated the terms of visitation by inserting yourself in Paul’s health care by sending an email to the … administrator.”

Matt complained to a Virginia licensing board.

The guardian responded in writing to Matt Skarlatos, “In August 2017, I was informed of your complaint to the State of Virginia, Long Term Care Licensure, which once again was in violation the terms of visitation. At this point, your rights to visit your father were terminated all together.”

No other reason for the visitation ban was provided.

"Not only are we denied. We're punished. We cannot ask questions," Matt Skarlatos said.

CASEY KASEM’S LEGAL LEGACY

When legendary radio DJ Casey Kasem was diagnosed with dementia, Kasem's guardian, his wife, prevented her stepchildren from seeing their father.

“That's what happened with my dad. I went through calling the police," daughter Kerri Kasem said. "I went through calling adult protective services. I went to court. $350,000 later, I can see my dad.”

The ABC7 I-Team caught up with Kerri Kasem on Capitol Hill as she pressed Congress members to pass a bill ensuring family visitation.

“I see this all the time where a child goes to ask for permission to see their own father, their own mother and the guardian that's been put in place has been denying visitation. Why? Because they're using that individual as a human ATM machine,” Kasem said.

Kasem travels the country and her organization, Kasem Cares, counts success with more than a dozen states passing increased family visitation rights.

VISITATION – FOR NOW

The company responsible for Paul Skarlatos' guardianship, IKOR of the Greater DC Area, declined to answer questions. In a statement, it responded, "IKOR is an objective third-party consultant that acts as an advocate for its clients. The company is committed to serving the best interest of its clients to ensure that they receive necessary life care management. whether medical, psychosocial, environmental or financial. The company upholds a high-quality standard of practice and operates under nationally accepted guardianship regulations.”

The I-Team talked to the National Guardianship Association, a trade organization not involved in the Skarlatos case.

"Family members really don't have rights to visitation. I think the important way to look at it is that it's the guardian's responsibility to make sure that the individuals preferences as to who they want to socialize with, how they want to spend their time,” said Sally Hurme, a NGA board member.

The Skarlatos children’s stepmother and the guardship company tried to get a judge to permanently ban Matt Skarlatos from ever seeing his father again. It argued in court, and the judge agreed, children raising care concerns could affect their father’s health if the assisted living facility compels him to move. The judge decided to allow Matt supervised visitation for one hour a week.

This story has been updated.

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