Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, May 4, 2020

The Tiger King and an Unexpected Lesson on Estate Planning

BaskinHey all you cool cats and kittens! Episode 3 of the recent Netflix hit Tiger King focused on the disappearance of the husband of the protagonist's arch-enemy. Joe Exotic was sentenced to federal prison for animal abuse and his part in a murder-for-hire plot against Carole Baskin. Baskin's former husband, millionaire Don Lewis, disappeared in 1997 and was declared dead in 2002. Though the man had a will and a trust for his children from a prior marriage, the episode insinuated that the documents were fraudulently altered.

According to the documentary, Lewis sought an injunction against Baskin after she allegedly threatened to kill him, possibly even for a second time. The adult children from his prior marriage claim that there was talk of divorce and suggested that Lewis had attempted to arrange his affairs to minimize any entitlement of Baskin when they separated. The episode also claimed that Lewis gave his assistant, Anne McQueen, an envelope that contained his will and power of attorney, naming McQueen as his agent and executor. The assistant also said that Lewis had told her to take the envelope to the police is anything should befall him. Supposedly, Baskin broke into the office and took the documents before presenting a different will and power of attorney to the court, with her as the agent and executor.

This new power of attorney indicated that it was prepared by Baskin and contained an eyebrow raising line: "This durable family power of attorney shall not be affected by any disability or disappearance.” In most jurisdictions, proof of the person’s death, either in the form of a death certificate or court order, is required in order to obtain probate and proceed to administer the estate. McQueen claims that Baskin filed for a court order to declare Lewis death "immediately" after the statutory five year period.

See Peter Askew, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, Madness and…Lessons About the Law of Estates?, April 1, 2020.


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