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Tiger King Is Everywhere (Including Here)

“Tiger King” is the exploitative Netflix series that even has the DC press corps asking questions about pardons to President Trump. One of the plot lines is the disappearance of Don Lewis and Joe Exotic’s (and Lewis’ daughters’) allegations that Lewis’ wife, Carole Baskin, killed Lewis and fed him to their lions in 1997.

For those not watching the show, Lewis and his much younger wife operated a large cat sanctuary in Florida. Lewis had a limited education (he filed legal docs with “enough” spelled “enouf”) but had made decent money in scrap metals and better money buying real estate subject to unpaid property taxes.

Lewis disappeared in 1997 without a trace. He had purchased a plane ticket to Costa Rica where he owned property and where he allegedly went to have daily sex while his wife was menstruating (gosh, I know this is tawdry, but she blogged about it). His car was found at a small airport 40 miles from his home. His passport was not swiped in Costa Rica nor the U.S.

Lewis left a power of attorney prepared by his wife in late 1996 that said that she could control his finances in the event of his disability or “disappearance.” Although I have not seen his will, it allegedly referred to “his kidnapping or disappearance.” His wife reportedly inherited $4 million and Lewis’ daughters from his first marriage received $1 million from a trust when he was declared dead in 2002. His daughters allege that the will and powers of attorney were forged. They also have accused Carole of killing him. Due to the publicity generated by the series, the sheriff in Hillsborough County has re-opened the investigation into the disappearance of Lewis.

So many thoughts, but let’s keep them to a minimum which is difficult to do over 7 episodes and countless blog posts and Internet stories:

1. The power of attorney is available on-line. It is professionally prepared with no typos with full justification of the margins even though prepared by Carole. It is possible she downloaded the template from Nolo, but highly unlikely that it included “disappearance” relating to its effectiveness.

2. In 33 years of preparing powers of attorney, I have never conditioned their effectiveness on “disappearance.”

3. A will that refers to “kidnapping or disappearance” does not make sense because wills only become effective upon death.

4. The power of attorney and will allegedly had the same witnesses, one of whom later said she did not actually witness the signing.

5. Although Lewis’ daughters alleged “forgery’, they likely meant that their father was unaware of the specifics of the documents he signed.

6. Lewis’ assistant, Ann McQueen, has alleged that she had the original power of attorney and will in her possession but Carole removed them from her office after his disappearance. When I suspect that documents might be contentious if they disappear, I offer to retain the originals.

7. Wow, there is a bunch of smoke here, including the refusal of Carole to take a polygraph test and allow an inspection of her property, but I have no snarky observation. A slander suit from these litigious folks is not worth it. 

Photo Credit:  Netflix

License:  Fair Use/Education

 

Between a Rock and Hard Place

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Bill Cornwell lived in a Greenwich Village brownstone with his same sex partner for 50 years. When he died two years ago, his will left the building and all of his possessions to his partner. However, the will was only witnessed by one individual while NY law requires two witnesses. Without a valid will, his estate will pass to his closest living relatives who are his nieces and nephews who recently sold the building for $7 million. The partner has since filed suit trying to prove that he and Mr. Cornwell were actually married, although they were not, so he can be considered the closest heir.

So many points and such short attention spans:

1. All wills require two witnesses not related to the individual and who will not receive any assets under the will.

2. Using a DIY will kit could lead to problems with properly executing wills (among other issues)

3. The legal arguments made by the partner verge on stupid. One of them is that even though they lived in NY, which does not recognize common law marriage, they bought a dog in Pennsylvania in 1991 as a symbol of their commitment to each other and because Pennsylvania used to recognize common law marriage they should be considered as married.

4. The 85 year old partner would be better off dropping the law suit and accepting the offer of the nieces and nephews to live in the apartment for 5 years at a monthly rental of $10 and receive $250,000 upon the sale of the building.

5. The entire problem could have been avoided if they had simply married each other once gay marriage became legal.

6. One niece claimed, apparently with a straight face, that her uncle did not want his partner to inherit or he would have properly executed the will. She also suggested that perhaps the men were just friends or great companions. The address of the rock under which she lives is unknown.

Sharia Estate Planning?

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A document purporting to be the will of terrorist Osama Bin Laden was released this week.  The one page handwritten document dates from the late 1990’s.  It was part of a cache of documents retrieved from his compound by Navy SEALs. In it, OBL gave 1% of his estate to one of his henchmen, 1% to another, and directed his family to use the rest of the estate to fund jihad.   No word on what happened to his estate at his death or whether he ever updated his will.

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DIY = Disaster Is Yours

A Minnesota woman signed a will in 2006 naming her grandson and a former employee as equal beneficiaries of her estate.   She tried to revoke the will in 2008 and leave her entire estate to her grandson by writing and initialing several changes on a photocopy of the will.  In 2010, she downloaded a DIY will from a website and hand wrote her intent to leave her entire estate to her grandson, but she did not have it properly witnessed.  She died in 2013 and all 3 wills were presented for probate.  The local probate court held that the 2006 will was still in effect because the 2008 notes on a photocopy did not validly revoke the prior will and that the 2010 downloaded form was not validly executed.

Several quick points:

1.  In Ohio, a will can be revoked with a statement of revocation or physical destruction (i.e. shredding or tearing) of the prior will.

2.  I generally retain the original wills of my clients to prevent them from trying to alter their wills by writing on them.

3.  I will once again quote the mechanic from the ’70’s Fram oil filter commercial (because I am from Greenville, Ohio and we had  a Fram oil filter plant in my long ago youth):  “You can pay me now or pay me later.”  I would have billed her $600 to implement her wishes. Instead, her estate spent thousands and her wishes were not followed because she did not follow the simple formalities for signing a will.  The now long ago former employee is forever grateful for her short sighted thriftiness.

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All Posts By Jay Brinker

I am an attorney located in Cincinnati, Ohio who practices in the areas of estate planning, probate, asset protection, and small business advice. I make a difficult and bewildering process as simple as possible. Most importantly, I provide "more for less" for my clients.