What is the Verdict on the Will of Carole Baskin’s Long-Missing Husband?
Hillsborough County (FL) Sheriff Chad Chronister recently announced that two different experts have deemed Don Lewis’ will in the Tiger King-Joe Exotic saga “100 percent a forgery,” Tampa Bay CBS station WTSP reported.
“We knew that before,” Chronister said. “Because the girl who came forward and said ‘Hey, I was forced to witness and say that I witnessed this signature.’ The problem was the statute of limitations had already expired. The will had already been executed at that point.”
“There’s no recourse,” the sheriff explained. “A judge deemed it valid, so the civil side of it would be execution of the will, the disbursements of the funds is one thing. But then you have the criminal side of it, it’s unable to be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations.”
The sheriff added that the determination that Don Lewis’ will was deemed a forgery “certainly cast another shadow of suspicion” on his disappearance.
“Investigators have some great leads, they’re working through them. I hope something pans out,” Chronister commented.
Fans of the Netflix docuseries Tiger King remember that Baskin’s previous husband mysteriously went missing in 1997 and was declared dead five years later. Some fans of the TV show think that Baskin was responsible for Lewis’ disappearance, but the Big Cat Rescue founder denied she had anything to do with it.
“Don was not easy to live with and like most couples, we had our moments,” Baskin said in a statement on the Big Cat Rescue website after Tiger King was released on Netflix earlier this year. “But I never threatened him, and I certainly had nothing to do with his disappearance. When he disappeared, I did everything I could to assist the police. I encouraged them to check out the rumors from Costa Rica, and separately I hired a private investigator.”
Sheriff Chronister’s comments come a day after Baskin was granted control of the Oklahoma zoo property formerly operated by Joseph Maldonado-Passage, widely known as “Joe Exotic.” He was convicted last year of paying a hitman $3,000 to kill Baskin, in addition to being found guilty on multiple charges of violating both the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records and the Endangered Species Act. Exotic was sentenced to 22 years in prison and is currently being held in a Dallas-Fort Worth medical center, after he was exposed to the coronavirus.
What Is a Testamentary Trust and Do You Need One? A couple doing some retirement planning has an updated will and a medical power of attorney in place, prepared with the help of an estate planning attorney. They own some rental property, a small business and life insurance, but their estate is not large enough for them to worry about the federal estate tax.
First, there are many different types of trusts. A living trust, also known as a revocable trust, irrevocable trusts and testamentary trusts are just three types. The testamentary trust only comes into effect at death under a last will and testament, and in some cases, depending on how they are structured, they may never come into effect, because they are designed for certain circumstances.
If you leave everything to your spouse in a will or through a revocable trust, your spouse will receive everything with no limitations. The problem is, those assets are subject to claims by your spouse’s creditors, such as business issues, a car accident, or bankruptcy. The surviving spouse may use the money any way he or she wishes, during their lifetime or through a will at death.
Consider if your spouse remarried after your death. What happens if they leave assets that they have inherited from you to a new spouse? If the new spouse dies, do the new spouses’ children inherit assets?
By using a trust, assets are available for the surviving spouse. At the death of the surviving spouse, assets in the trust must be distributed as directed in the language of the trust. This is especially important in blended families, where there may be children from other marriages.
Trusts are also valuable to distribute assets, if there are beneficiaries with an inability to manage money, undue spousal interference or a substance abuse problem.
Note that the trust only protects the decedent’s assets, that is, their separate property and half of the community property, if they live in a community property state.
The best solution to the issue of how to distribute assets, is to meet with an estate planning attorney and determine the goal of each spouse and the couple’s situation. People who own businesses need to protect their assets from litigation. It may make sense to have significant assets placed in trust to control how they pass to family members and shield them from possible lawsuits.
Fearing COVID-19, Older People Alter Their Living Wills
Fearing COVID-19, Older People are Altering Their Living Wills. Minna Buck, 91, had been following the craze surrounding COVID-19. Last month, Buck decided to revise a document specifying her wishes if she were to become critically ill. Buck’s revision included the words, “No intubation” in big letters in order to make her wishes clear.
Minna Buck was aware that she would likely not survive a serious infection like COVID-19, so she wanted to be sure that she would not be put on a ventilator under any circumstances. Buck, who lives in a continuing care retirement community in Denver, selflessly stated, “I don’t want to put everybody through the anguish.”
For the older community, ventilators symbolize a lack of personal control as well as the power of technology. In other words, the fear of being put on a ventilators is a terrifying thought for these communities. This makes COVID-19 an even more terrifying thought, since respiratory failure is a signature symptom of the illness. The harsh reality is that those in their 80s or 90s, will not have a good chance of defeating the illness, even if put on a ventilator; and the risk is even greater for those who have underlying health conditions.
Like Buck, Joyce Edwards, who is 61, also revised her advanced directive to state that she did not want to be put on a ventilator if she were to have COVID-19. Edwards said that she had her quality of life in mind when she made the decision and she felt that being placed on a ventilator would keep her from enjoying the things she loves most.
For the seniors, COVID-19 forces them to face these issues. Being placed on a ventilator can work one of two ways: One, the ventilator could help assist you in your uphill battle of recovery; or two, you could spend your last days hooked up to a machine that is essentially robbing you of your last days. The decision is yours!
What Should I know about Financial Powers of Attorney?
A financial power of attorney is a document allowing an “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” to act on the principal’s behalf. It usually allows the agent to pay the principal’s bills, access her accounts, pay her taxes and buy and sell investments. This person, in effect, assumes the responsibilities of the principal and can act for the principal in all areas detailed in the document.
Kiplinger’s recent article from April entitled “What Are the Duties for Financial Powers of Attorney?” acknowledges that these responsibilities may sound daunting, and it’s only natural to feel a little overwhelmed initially. Here are some facts that will help you understand what you need to do.
Read and don’t panic. Review the power of attorney document and know the extent of what the principal has given you power to handle in their stead.
Understand the scope. Make a list of the principal’s assets and liabilities. If the individual for whom you’re caring is organized, then that will be simple. Otherwise, you will need to find these items:
Brokerage and bank accounts
Utility, phone, cable, and internet bills
Insurance premium invoices
Take a look at the principal’s spending patterns to see any recurring expenses. Review their mail for a month to help you to determine where the money comes and goes. If your principal is over age 72 and has granted you the power to manage her retirement plan, don’t forget to make any required minimum distributions (RMDs). If your principal manages her finances online, you’ll need to contact their financial institutions and establish that you have power of attorney, so that you can access these accounts.
Guard the principal’s assets. Make certain that her home is secure. You might make a video inventory of the residence. If it looks like your principal will be incapacitated for a long time, you might stop the phone and newspaper. Watch out for family members taking property and saying that it had been promised to them (or that it belonged to them all along).
Pay bills. Be sure to monitor your principal’s bills and credit card statements for potential fraud. You might temporarily suspend credit cards that you won’t be using on the principal’s behalf. Remember that they may have monthly bills paid automatically by credit card.
Pay taxes. Many powers of attorney give the agent the power to pay the principal’s taxes. If so, you’ll be responsible for filing and paying taxes during the principal’s lifetime. If the principal dies, the executor of the principal’s will is responsible and will prepare the final taxes.
Ask about estate planning. See if there is an estate plan and ask a qualified estate planning attorney for help. If the principal resides in a nursing home paid by Medicaid, talk to an elder law attorney as soon as possible to save the principal’s estate at least some of the costs of their care.
Keep records. Track your expenditures made on your principal’s behalf. This will help you demonstrate that you have upheld your duties and acted in the principal’s best interests, as well as for reimbursement for expenses.
Always act in the principal’s best interest. If you don’t precisely know the principal’s expectations, then always act with their best interests in mind. Contact the principal’s attorney who prepared the power of attorney for guidance.
Forbes’ recent article entitled “The Dangers Of Dying Without A Will” reminds us that drafting a will allows you determine who will inherit your assets when you die and, if you have young children, who will raise them if you die and their other parent is deceased. However, if you pass away without a will, the state will make these very important decisions on your behalf and they may end up being choices you’d never make if you were still around.
Those choices may not reflect your wishes, might create conflicts within your family and cause economic hardships for your loved ones. In addition, none of your assets will go to your favorite charities.
One more thing: no will means potential legal expenses that your estate must pay. Look at these examples of the issues dying without a will may create:
If you’re married and have children from a prior relationship, most of your estate may go to the children, leaving your current spouse in a financial hardship. He or she will need to deal with stepchildren (or your former spouse, if your children are minors) just to receive some of your assets.
If you’re single and die without a will, your assets might end up going first to your parents or your siblings, if your parents pass before you. You may have wanted your estate to go to others instead.
If you die and had an unmarried partner, no will may well leave him or her in a tough financial position, especially if they were financially dependent on you. State laws typically don’t recognize unmarried partners, so he or she could get evicted from the home the two of you shared, if you were the sole owner.
When you do write your will, work with an attorney to be certain that it’s legally valid in your state. There’s no guarantee that the one you prepare without a lawyer will satisfy that criteria. If the probate court doesn’t recognize your will, it will be as though you died without one.
An experienced local estate planning attorney will help you make sure your will meets your state’s requirements. This will reduce any potential fighting within your family and prevent them from challenging your will’s validity in court.
Life is now extremely fragile with COVID-19. The consequences of dying without a will have never been more profound. Talk to an estate planning attorney today!
How Low-Interest Rates Create Estate Planning Opportunities
One result of the global health crisis is that interest rates are lower now than they have been in many, many years. The April 2020 AFRs (Applicable Federal Rates), which are used to determine the least amount of interest that has to be charged for below-market loans and are often used for intrafamily lending, have decreased to 0.91 percent for loans less than 36 months, 0.99 percent for loans of 36 months or more and less than nine years, and 1.44 percent for loans of nine years or longer.
The article, titled “Estate Planning in a Low Interest Rate Environment,” from The National Law Review Journal, explains that for families where intrafamily lending has already occurred, these low rates provide a chance to amend the terms of current promissory notes to obtain these rates.
There are two opportunities presented:
The amount that the borrower needs to repay is reduced, thereby easing the burden on a borrower who has a cash flow problem.
If a parent has already lent money to a child who will eventually inherit assets from the parent, this lower interest rate will help to facilitate wealth transfer. The parent will receive lower payments under the note, minimizing the assets that are added back to the lender’s taxable estate.
Here are a few situations where these loans are typically used:
Parents extend a loan to adult child, who is going through a challenging financial period.
Parent lends money to a child with the understanding that the child will invest the money at a higher rate of return than the interest charged under the note, thus allowing growth to occur in the child’s estate rather than in the parent’s estate.
Complex estate planning, where a sale is made to an intentionally defective trust, where the seller’s goal is to freeze the value of the estate for a price at which the asset was sold on an installment basis. This allows future growth to take place outside of the seller’s taxable estate.
These intrafamily loans are usually part of sophisticated estate planning. Other methods include Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs), or Charitable Lead Trusts (CLTs), which also become more attractive in a low interest rate environment.
With a GRAT, there is a transfer of assets to a trust, in which the settlor retains an annuity payment for a certain number of years. At the end of the term, the remaining assets pass to the trust beneficiaries with no estate tax implication. The CLT operates in a similar way, except that the payment for a specified number of years is made to a charity.
Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about how your estate could benefit from the current low interest rate environment.
100 Things to Do While Stuck Inside Due to a Pandemic
As concerts are postponed, sporting events are canceled, schools are closed and tourist hot spots are shut down, experts recommend that even those who show no sign of illness stay home during this time of global pandemic. Following are 100 things to do while stuck inside due to a pandemic.
That’s right: It’s advised that you self-quarantine.
Although remaining inside is a good way to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus, and is an important measure to help “flatten the curve” of daily cases that put pressure on our health care system, it could lead to a lesser evil: boredom and stir craziness.
What’s there to do while stuck indoors? We’ve compiled 100 suggestions to help make your time quarantined as interesting – and perhaps even as productive – as possible.
2. Start a journal or blog. Sure, it can be about the coronavirus, but it could also be about a specific interest from chess to cheese.
3. If it won’t bother your neighbors: Dust off that old instrument and practice.
5. Write poetry. Perhaps you can craft a haiku for Mother’s Day, or something without a specific structure. Just try it!
6. Watch all the really long movies you’ve avoided until now.
7. Download Duolingo, or a similar app, and teach yourself a foreign language.
9. Meditate. Try lying down with your eyes closed, palms up and while focusing on your breath. Or spend 20 minutes sitting crosslegged and repeat a soothing word to yourself in your head. (The latter is more like transcendental meditation.)
10. Face masks, moisturizer, oh my! Treat yourself to a 10-step skin care routine you don’t have time for during a normal work week.
Gifting a house outright to an adult child or adding them to the property’s deed may avoid the hassle of probate, but doing so may bring along its own slew of issues. These problems range from a potentially large tax bill to the house being in danger if the child files for bankruptcy.
Sometimes parents transfer a home to their child to try to qualify for Medicaid, the government program that pays health care and nursing home bills for the indigent. But gifts or transfers made within five years of applying for Medicaid can lead to a penalty period when seniors are disqualified from receiving benefits.
If an adult child is gifted a house through inheritance or a will, they will also get a “step-up in tax basis.” Meaning the value of the house upon the conveyance will not be based on the date they acquired it, but rather when the previous owner acquired it. Kenneth Robinson of Rocky River, Ohio had a client that received his mother’s house as a gift – against his advice – prior to the mother’s death. The mother purchased the house in 1976 for $16,000, but the son acquired the property with a market value of $200,000 with a tax bill of $32,000 because of the $184,000 gain.
However, Section 2036 of the Internal Revenue Code says that if the mother retained a “life interest” in the property, which includes the right to continue living there, the home would remain in her estate rather than be considered a completed gift. There are specific rules for what constitutes a life interest, including the power to determine what happens to the house and liability for its bills. The executor of the person would then file gift tax return on the deceased’s behalf to show that the recipient was given a remainder interest, or the right to inherit at the person’s death.
As we age, changes to our body, our health, our financial picture, and our family is ever-evolving. When we were young, we didn’t worry about infirmity, incapacity, or how we want our estates managed. But time marches on and those issues become the forefront of our lives. Being an elder law attorney means using our knowledge of the legal issue to help aging or disabled clients find solutions to problems as they arise and formulate a plan to avoid problems in the future. The work we do focuses on the needs of the client and may or may not always involve a legal solution.
Being an elder law attorney means we must have a working knowledge of many areas of the law, such as estate planning, asset protection, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Veterans Benefits, long term health care insurance, guardianship, special needs trusts and disability planning, probate, trust administration, elder abuse and elder exploitation, nursing home discharge issues, patient rights, retirement benefits, health law, and mental health law. It’s a long list but most clients have issues that span across many of those areas and planning can be complex.
Being an elder law attorney means we practice using a holistic approach, thinking about the issue at hand, but also considering future issues that might arise and how to plan for them. Our job is to point out the potential “holes in the road” that may come up, and help our clients stay out of those holes. In addition, we must consider the financial and mental well-being of the family as a whole, which means having knowledge of community resources to provide support to those with non-legal needs such as caregiver stress or financial management.
Being an elder law attorney means we keep a box of tissues on our desks, provide adequate lighting for those with vision issues, decorate our offices with chairs that are easy to get in and out of, use a larger font on our websites, and only hire staff that are compassionate and have a genuine interest in the practice. Our clients may have hearing issues, and not technically savvy, so we must meet the client where he or she is comfortable, and communication is often done by “snail mail” rather than email or by phone.
Being an elder law attorney means that not all our clients are elderly. In my practice I serve special needs clients of all ages, from children to adults. My office must be wheelchair friendly and able to accommodate all family members who want to be involved in seeking solutions for their loved one, especially when the client is a child with special needs.
Being an elder law attorney means I must listen with a sympathetic ear, let my clients have time to tell their story, and not rush them to get to the issue at hand. This time is important not only for them but for me as well as it gives me a greater understanding of their needs and how I can help.
Being an elder law attorney means we go to hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living communities, and the client’s home. If a client can’t get to us, we go to them. Many times, being in their own home makes a difficult conversation a bit easier.
When choosing an elder law attorney look for someone who focuses his or her practice exclusively in the area of elder law, who has the expertise you need, the compassion to listen, and is willing to accommodate your needs before, during, and after the initial consultation.
Gifting assets to a trust for children or grandchildren is often an important part of an estate plan. The recent article “Is Now a Good Time to Make a Gift?” from The National Law Review takes a close look into the strategy of placing non-cash assets into a trust, without exceeding the annual gift tax exclusion amount or the Federal Gift Tax Exemption. If those assets increase in value later, the increases will further enhance the gift for beneficiaries.
Taxes on gifts made to a trust to benefit children and grandchildren are based primarily on the value of the gift. Annual exclusion gifts, that is, transfers of assets or cash that do not exceed the annual gift tax exclusion, are currently set at $15,000 per recipient per year. A married couple may give up to $30,000 per person in any calendar year. Many annual exclusion gifts do not require a Federal Gift Tax Return (Form 709), although it would be wise to speak with an estate planning attorney to make sure that this applies to you, since every situation is different.
Annual exclusion gifts are one way to reduce the overall value of the estate, but they do not reduce the Federal Estate Tax Exemption of the person making the gift.
Gifts in excess of the annual exclusion amount may still avoid gift taxes, if the person making the gift applies their gift tax exemption by filing IRS Form 709. The gift tax exemption is unified with the estate tax exemption, at $11.58 million per person in 2020. Gifts that are bigger than the annual exclusion of $15,000 per year, reduce the $11.58 million exemption for purposes of both the gift tax and the estate tax.
For example, if a person were to make taxable gifts of $1.0 million to a child in 2020, their lifetime gift tax and estate tax exemption will be reduced to $10.58 million. If that person were to die in 2020 when the applicable estate tax exemption is $10.58 million, then only estate assets in excess of the exemption will be subject to estate tax.
Given the uncertainly of the gift and estate tax exemptions, management and timing of these gifts is particularly important. If no legislative action occurs, these generous estate and gift tax exemptions will sunset at the end of 2025. They will return to the 2010 level of $5.0 million, indexed for inflation.
The exemptions need to be carefully used and budgeted, because federal estate tax starts at 18% and rises to 40% on all amounts over the exemption. Like the exemption, these rate rates may be changed by future elections and/or tax law changes.
If you are concerned about an estate becoming taxable, the current decline in asset values makes this a good opportunity to transfer more of the estate into trust for beneficiaries. The transfers can decrease the impact of a reduction in the exemption amount, as well as any changes to the tax rates. The currently reduced value of stocks and many other investments may also present an opportunity to reduce future taxes.
The best way forward would be to have a conversation with an estate planning attorney to review your overall estate plan and how moving assets into trusts during a time of lowered value could benefit the estate and its beneficiaries.