by Estate Planning Attorney Nydia Menendez
Have you seen the Netflix “Tiger King” series? During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with people stuck at home in quarantine, this series went viral, being watched by over 64 million households.
The show focuses on infamous zookeeper, “Joe Exotic.” But the third episode, titled “The Secret” really got me interested because it was about Carole Baskin, the founder of “Big Cat Rescue,” which is Joe Exotic’s chief rival.
Carole Baskin married millionaire Don Lewis in 1991. Together the couple co-founded “Wildlife on Easy Street,” and the episode creates suspicion regarding the disappearance of Carole’s husband. According to the show, the couple was not getting along, and Baskin allegedly threatened to kill him. Then in August of 1997, Lewis mysteriously disappeared.
In the TV show, a woman named Anne McQueen, Lewis’ assistant, claims Lewis had given her his Will and Power of Attorney, naming McQueen as his agent and executor. What’s more, McQueen claims Baskin stole the documents and altered them, designating herself as the executor and heir of the bulk of his estate.
The Power of Attorney contained an eyebrow-raising line: “This durable family Power of Attorney shall not be affected by any disability or disappearance”.
This is suspicious because “disappearance” is usually not included in the language of a Power of Attorney. As the show points out, everyone anticipates disability and death, but who anticipates disappearance?
Another strange issue is that Baskin filed for a court order to declare Lewis dead immediately after the statutory five-year period. Many are skeptical about how quick Baskin was to affirm the disappearance of her spouse as a death. Although personally I think there is nothing “immediate” about waiting five years, so, I’m not as alarmed by that.
Here are the morals of this story …
- Documents as important as a Will and Power of Attorney should always be kept in a safe place, accessible only to the appointed agents.
- If someone still manages to access this “safe place,” as allegedly was the case here, having multiple copies in other locations, including with the attorney who prepared the documents, and with the successor agents, would have eliminated the concerns and insinuations at issue in the Baskin / Lewis case.
- According to the show, Baskin prepared the documents herself! Really? That’s another lesson: Hire a qualified attorney!
- The show is not clear as to whether there were Trusts involved. I’m assuming there were because Lewis’ daughters from a prior relationship said something about that. If Baskin was the Trustee, and was engaging in these alleged acts of misfeasance, this could have been brought to a court for supervision. Remember, Trustees have a fiduciary obligation to the beneficiaries of the Trust. And Lewis could have even appointed different Trustees for the Sub-Trust for his daughters.
- However, if Lewis’ plan consisted of only a Power of Attorney and a Will, that would have been in fact the real concern. These documents do not include all the necessary protections to make sure your wishes are carried out exactly the way you want.
How Can You Get Started with Your Estate Plan?
If you want to learn more about how to plan for your future to make sure you remain in control of your decisions while leaving a lasting legacy for your family, then we invite you to call our office at (954) 963-7220 to speak with a member of the Menéndez Law Firm. You may also want to watch the video series on our YouTube channel where we talk about Estate Planning in detail. Or if you would like to join us for the next live Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning webinar on Zoom you can register at no charge on our website www.menendezlawfirm.com
Estate Planning Attorney
Menéndez Law Firm
2699 Stirling Road, Suite B200
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312
Tel.: (954) 963-7220
Fax: (954) 963-7232