Written By Colin Adair Morgan, CELA
Julian Gray Associates
If you have been paying attention to Social Media and the news over the past few weeks, you will notice the following top two topics, COVID-19 and “The Tiger King”. Given the gravity of the former topic, let’s discuss how the latter, more entertaining subject relates to Estate Planning.
The Tiger King is a Netflix reality show that examines the world of big cat ownership through the lens of the rivalry of two of its top personalities, Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin. While Joe Exotic was the star of the show with his lavish outfits, outlandish personality, and conviction or attempted murder-for-hire, Carole Baskin is an interesting figure as well.
In a somewhat unorthodox “Rags to Riches” story, Ms. Baskins rose from stark poverty to become the owner/operator of one of the largest big cat rescue shelters in the United States. It isn’t all a fairy tale though. Carole was initially married to multi-millionaire big cat enthusiast Don Lewis, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. After telling Carole that he was planning to take a trip to Costa Rica, a country he frequented over the course of their marriage, Don disappeared and was never heard from again. Moreover, his van was discovered abandoned at a private airport with a significant amount of cash left behind. This led to an extensive police investigation spanning multiple continents which ended in Mr. Lewis being declared dead and the case being closed.
Throughout the series, big cat rival Joe Exotic maintained that Carole murdered her late husband and disposed of his remains by feeding them to her tigers. This macabre story serves as the backdrop of a series of wild circumstances that eventually led to Joe Exotic’s arrest and conviction after attempting to hire a hitman to kill Carole Baskins.
So....what does this have to do with Estate Planning?
Among the many strange occurrences documented in The Tiger King, Don Lewis’ General Durable Power of Attorney (“GDPOA”) was subject to some scrutiny. Apparently, both Don Lewis and Carole Baskins initially executed Powers of Attorney appointing their business manager Anne McQueen, as their primary Agent. However, it was discovered shortly after his disappearance that Don apparently executed a new Power of Attorney appointing Carole as his primary Agent. Even more puzzling, this new Power of Attorney prominently features language guaranteeing Carole’s appointment as Agent in the event of Don’s disappearance.
To that end, I have received a lot of questions from friends and relatives concerning this GDPOA and its contents. To properly examine this document, let’s first establish the definition of a General Durable Power of Attorney. A GDPOA is a document that allows a Principal to appoint an individual or individuals (“Agent”) to take financial actions on behalf of the Principal. This is a vital document in circumstances where the Principal is unable to manage his or her own affairs. This inability can spring from cognitive disease, to physical frailty, to...yes even disappearance.
In the immediate case, if an individual simply disappears, his or her financial affairs must be maintained pending an investigation that either finds the missing individual or determines that the individual is deceased. This necessitates the activation and use of a GDPOA. With that said, I found it to be very puzzling that such specific language was mentioned so early in Don’s GDPOA. It is also concerning when a new GDPOA is introduced out of the blue, which seems to be contrary to the Principal’s initial wishes. This indicates the possibility of wrongdoing, coercion, or even fabrication of the document.
Despite the Tiger King case being uniquely outrageous, it serves as a good example as to why it is vitally important to seek qualified legal advice and services with respect to any estate planning documentation. Utilizing the services of a qualified Elder Law Attorney will provide a properly designed estate plan that will reduce exposure to malfeasance.