Adulting 101

In today’s rapidly changing world, young adults often find themselves navigating a multitude of responsibilities and decisions as they embark on their journeys toward independence. While estate planning might seem like a topic more relevant to older generations, it holds a crucial significance for young adults as well. The truth is unforeseen circumstances can affect anyone at any stage of life, underscoring the importance of having essential estate planning documents in place. These documents provide a sense of security and control over one’s future and offer a practical way to ensure that one’s wishes are honored in situations that may involve medical emergencies, financial uncertainties, or unexpected life events. As such, young adults (and their parents) increasingly recognize the value of establishing these foundational legal instruments early on to safeguard their well-being and protect their assets.

What legal documents do your young adults need when they turn 18?

It’s great that you’re considering legal documents for a young adult at 18. At this point, individuals become legal adults and have certain rights and responsibilities. Some essential legal documents for a young adult to consider include:

1. Healthcare Power of Attorney: This document designates someone to make medical decisions on their behalf if they are unable to do so themselves.

2. Durable Power of Attorney: This grants someone the authority to manage their financial affairs if they become incapacitated.

3. Living Will: Also known as an advance directive, a living will outlines their preferences for medical treatment and end-of-life care.

4. Last Will and Testament: While typically associated with older adults, it’s never too early to create a will to outline how they want their assets distributed in case of their passing.

5. HIPAA Authorization: This allows healthcare providers to share medical information with designated individuals.

6. Digital Assets: As technology becomes more integral to our lives, it’s important to consider what should happen to their online accounts and digital property after their passing.

Some additional legal documents to consider include:

7. Rental Agreement: If they’re moving out of their parent’s home or living independently, a rental agreement can help outline their responsibilities as a tenant.

8. Bank Account Documents: If they’re opening a bank account, they will likely need identification documents and possibly a parent or guardian’s signature if they’re under 18.

10. Student Loan Agreements: If they’re pursuing higher education and taking out loans, they should be aware of the terms and conditions of their loans.

Remember, legal requirements can vary from state to state, which is why it’s a good idea to consult with an attorney when your young adult is ready to set up their first estate plan.

Why do parents want to have their 18-year-old child’s legal documents in order?

Parents often want to ensure that their 18-year-old child has their legal documents in order for several important reasons:

1. Healthcare Decisions: Legal documents like a Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Living Will can allow parents to make medical decisions on their child’s behalf if they cannot do so themselves. This becomes crucial in case of accidents, emergencies, or medical situations where the young adult cannot communicate their wishes.

2. Financial Management: With a Durable Power of Attorney, parents can manage their child’s financial affairs if the child becomes incapacitated. This can be especially helpful when the young adult is away at college or living independently and needs assistance with financial matters.

3. Peace of Mind: Parents naturally worry about their children’s well-being. Knowing that their child has taken steps to address important legal matters can provide parents with peace of mind, knowing that their child’s interests are protected even if they are not directly involved in every decision.

4. Asset Distribution: While it might not be pleasant to think about, having a Last Will and Testament ensures that the young adult’s assets are distributed according to their wishes in case of their passing. This can help prevent confusion, disputes, and potential legal issues among family members.

5. Privacy and Communication: Documents like HIPAA Authorization allow parents to access their child’s medical information and communicate with healthcare providers if necessary. This can be critical in situations where quick decisions need to be made about medical treatment.

6. Transition to Independence: As young adults transition to independence, having these legal documents in place empowers them to take control of their own lives while still having a safety net in case of unexpected events.

7. Avoiding Legal Complications: Without proper legal documentation, parents might face challenges in accessing their child’s medical or financial information, making decisions on their behalf, or managing their affairs if needed. These challenges can be avoided with the appropriate legal documents in place.

8. Educational and Employment Needs: Some legal documents, such as what is needed when signing rental agreements or managing student loans, might be necessary as young adults pursue higher education or enter the workforce.

By helping your young adult put their first estate plan in order, you, as a parent, demonstrate your support, care, and commitment to your child’s well-being and future. It teaches your young adult responsibility and becomes a great lesson that will benefit your child as they move through life. If you have any further questions about what legal documents your young adult might need, or you are ready to make some moves and start to get these in order, contact Cris Carter Law today.

My Pet Is My BFF!

If your BFF is a furry friend, you love and adore them; they are an important part of your life. So it only makes sense that you want the best for your pet even after you are gone. But estate planning for your beloved furry friend may be more complex than you think. When it comes to providing for your pet, it is important to know two things:

  • A pet is considered property under the law &
  • When someone receives your pet in your Will, they can do whatever they want with that property.

Your Will Doesn’t Cut It

Under the law, a pet is considered personal property, just like your money, furniture, and clothes. Because of this, you can’t leave money or possessions to your pet directly through your Will. If you leave money directly to your pet in your Will, the money will instead skip your pet and pass to the beneficiaries you named to receive the remainder of your possessions. And if you didn’t name anyone else, the court will give your possessions, including your pet, to your next of kin.

Worst of all, the person that receives your pet and any money left for the care of your pet in your Will, has absolutely no legal obligation to use that money for your pet’s care or even to keep your pet at all.

A Will Provides No Guarantees

For Their FutureBecause you can’t leave money to your pet directly, your first thought might be to leave your pet and money for its care to someone you trust through your Will instead. This option is not likely to work.

That’s because the person you name as the beneficiary of your pet in your Will has no legal obligation to use the funds you leave for your pet’s care for that purpose. Even if you leave detailed instructions for your pet’s care, your beneficiary does not have to accept the responsibility of caring for your pet. Nothing stops them from changing their mind and abandoning your BFF.

You might think that the person you’d leave your pet to would love them and would never abandon them. (Ask the local shelter how often they see this happen). Even if your chosen person is committed to caring for your pet, it’s simply impossible to predict what circumstances might occur in the future that could make it impossible for them to provide for your pet for the rest of your pet’s life.

And a Will Isn’t Fast Enough

The other issue a Will creates for your pet is that a Will is required by law to go through the court process known as probate before any of your property can be distributed to the people you’ve named, and of course, it only operates in the event of your death, not your incapacity.

The probate process itself can take months (a minimum of 8 months on a good day) or even years to complete. During that time, your pet could be passed around between those who argue over who should care for it. In the worst-case scenario, no one may even think to check in on your pet regularly while the court process is unfolding.

Plus, a Will only goes into effect upon your death, so if you’re incapacitated by accident or illness, it would do nothing to protect your companion. This leaves your pet in limbo and vulnerable to being rehomed to someone you would not have chosen or wanted to care for your pet. In the worst scenario, your pet could be surrendered to a shelter by the time everything gets figured out.

Provide Long-Lasting Care for Your Pet Through a Pet Trust

In order to be completely confident that your pet is properly taken care of and that the money you leave for its care is used precisely as intended, ask us to help you create a Pet Trust.

By creating a Pet Trust, you can lay out detailed, legally binding rules for how your pet’s chosen caregiver (the trustee) can use the funds you leave for your furry friend. And unlike a Will, a Pet Trust will go into effect immediately in the event you become incapacitated or pass away.

Do Right By Your Pet

With a Pet Trust, all of the care decisions and financial distributions for your pet will happen in the privacy of our office in the event of your death or incapacity. Unlike a Will, a Pet Trust doesn’t go through probate, which means it goes into effect immediately if you become incapacitated or pass away. We’ll guide your decision-makers about how and why you made your decisions and how they need to care for your pet to receive distributions. And, while that may seem excessive for some, it is perfect for those clients who care so much about the well-being of their pets and want to ensure their pet gets plenty of tender loving care in the future.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation and ensure you’re doing right by your pet.

5 Loving Things To Do For The Ones You Love

5 Loving Things To Do For The Ones You Love

It’s a new year, which means a new chance to do what you’ve been putting off until the time is right. That time is now. Here are 5 of the most loving things you can do for the people you love in the New Year because, at some point, you will become sick or die. And while we don’t like to think about it, the best way not to need to think about it is to plan well.  Then, you can put it out of your mind and live your life as if every day is your last.

The Five Most Loving Things You Can Do For The People You Love In The New Year:

1. Make a Plan. Having a will, a trust, a power of attorney, a health care directive, and, if you have kids, a Children’s Protection Plan is vitally important so you don’t leave your family in a mess and having to deal with an expensive court process overseen by a judge who doesn’t know (or really care) about you or your family. Without a plan in place, you are planning to fail! Don’t do that to your loved ones.

2. Write a letter or record a CD. Pass on what really matters to your family — your values, insights, stories, and experience — in written or recorded form so they can return to you long after you are gone. There are many ways you can save special memories for those you will leave behind one day.

3. Pay for and plan your funeral. Cremated or buried? Ashes or body where? Yes or no to a viewing? Make these decisions now and let your loved ones know, in writing, so they don’t have to worry and wonder. And have the payment arrangements for your funeral expenses handled so they don’t have to scramble and pay for the arrangements at a time when they are overwhelmed with grief.

4. Plan to pay no taxes. Will there be taxes on your estate, and if so, how will your heirs pay them? Meet with your personal and trusted attorney to be sure there are no surprises with estate taxes or other costs, especially if there’s insurance involved. You don’t have to be rich to think about this.

5. Get organized. Let loved ones know where they can find your legal documents, other important paperwork, and the key to your safe deposit box. Be sure to include all of your password information to access online accounts, including email, Facebook, and other regularly accessed computer programs.

It’s The Most Magical Time Of The Year… Camp CoCo!

Camp CoCo

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

There is a coolness in the air today, which is a sign that fall is on the way. I will welcome the fall season this year, given the challenge we have endured through the past hot, hot summer months.

I hope your summertime was great. Mine has been a summer filled with wonder. For the first several months, the wonder came from you, the clients I serve. I feel blessed to meet and work with such special people. What I get to do every day is life-giving because of you all. To have that as the backdrop for Camp CoCo, which happens in August every summer, prepares me for the joy of being with grandchildren.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the key to happiness is to be fully present in each and every moment. So my estate planning advice for you as we move into fall is to make memories with those you love now! Let me share what making memories looked like for me this summer and how simple that can be.

Every August, I spend one-on-one quality time with my children and grandchildren at Camp CoCo. It is fast, fun, and full of delight. Most everyone knows me as Cris Carter, but my loved ones call me CoCo- hence Camp CoCo. CoCo was the name I chose 12 years ago with the birth of my first grandchild. I can’t believe it has been 12 years, but that is another story for another time.

Camp CoCo has become a family tradition where I get first-class time with my three grandchildren in Colorado. If you have seen me this summer, you know my face lights up when I think or talk about Camp CoCo. It is a challenging time as I find fun, stimulating, wholesome activities for the “grands” who are now twelve, ten, and eight and live in Texas. The days at Camp CoCo are some of the best days of my life, bar none.

The highlights of the 2022 Camp CoCo event included a couple of nights at the Great Wolf Lodge in Colorado Springs, a trip to the newly rebuilt Flying W Ranch also in Colorado Springs, the Larimer County Rodeo, a melodrama titled “To be ORE not to be” at Gold Hill, Colorado, just outside of Boulder and a stay in Winter Park Colorado. And, yes, after Camp CoCo is over, I need a lot of R & R!

From the perspective of the “grands,” they gave the highest score this year to celebrating old-time Colorado tradition at the Flying W Ranch in Colorado Springs. The Flying W is a working mountain cattle ranch that has provided family education and entertainment in the foothills of Colorado Springs, Colorado, since 1953. I lived in Colorado Springs in 2012 when the Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed the Flying W and was delighted that they were able to rebuild and reopen in 2020. That was also the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is quite a testimony to the grit and resilience of the Flying W Ranch family that visitors can enjoy the nostalgia of the old west once again.

The Flying W is open daily from May to October and features western-style living. With its humble beginnings as a mountain cattle ranch in 1947, the Flying W Ranch is a living symbol of western heritage and has many opportunities for adults and children alike. I suggest you arrive early so you can fully enjoy the fun activities, including:

  • Hands-on with the Ranch animals, including oxen, miniature horses, donkeys, goats, sheep, chickens, and turkeys
  • A hayride on the Percheron horses
  • Riding the train through Christmas Rock Train Tunnel
  • Watching the native Indian Sweetwater Plains Dancers around the open campfire
  • Watching Navajo rug weavers and silversmiths
  • Viewing a horseshoeing demonstration
  • Ranges where you can test your skills at axe throwing and archery

Here is a short video to glimpse the fun and beauty of the Flying W Ranch.

The Ranch is open until October 3, 2022, and will have special Christmas shows in December 2022. I highly recommend visiting the ranch sooner than later with your loved ones. You’ve undoubtedly heard the key to happiness is to be fully present in each and every moment. So as my estate planning advice as we move into fall, I say make those memories with those you love now!

Keeping up with the Grandkids and the Gift of Grandparenting

grandkids bonding time at RMNP

As life expectancy increases, the role of a grandparent has grown. A strong grandparent-grandchild connection helps us to be physically active and socially engaged and improves healthy development in kids. I share my insights on how special the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren can be and how to make it as rewarding as possible.

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The Proven Path to a Joyful Life

proven-path-to-a-joyful-life

A proven way to live a more fulfilling life is to fully accept the fact that one day you’re going to die.

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” -Marcus Aurelius

The unavoidable nature of death is a basic tenet found in every religion.

The acceptance of death is so important in Buddhism that “impermanence,” or the fact that everything born eventually dies, is at the top of the Buddha’s list of the three universal characteristics of existence. Before religious practice, Tibetan Buddhists chant, “The whole world and its inhabitants are impermanent. The life of human beings is like a bubble. Death comes without warning; this body too will be a corpse.”

Such teachings may seem morbid, but they’re actually designed to awaken you from denial and inspire you to fully appreciate life because you never know when it will end.

“How sad it is that most of us only begin to appreciate our life when we are at the point of dying.” -Sogyal Rinpoche

Numerous individuals have found that contemplating and accepting their own mortality is a powerful source of happiness. This isn’t something only found in religious teachings; it’s also been demonstrated by modern science.

Countless healthcare professionals report that people facing terminal illness often experience an incredible sense of peace and fulfillment in the days and weeks before they die. Many of them describe the acceptance of death as a life-changing event, confessing they never knew what it meant to live until they knew they were going to die.

The same is true for many who undergo a near-death experience. After staring death in the face, they report that their lives have much greater meaning. They frequently make dramatic life changes because they know without a doubt that any day, even today, might be their last.

“It is only in the face of death that man’s self is born.” -St Augustine

You’ve undoubtedly heard the key to happiness is to be fully present in each and every moment. This advice is derived from acceptance of death. By accepting that death is inevitable, we’re inspired to embrace every second of our lives with more gratitude and joy because we know that our existence is so fleeting.

If you’ve been avoiding thinking about and preparing for death, you may be missing out on an incredible opportunity. These experiences show us that death is an essential part of what makes life so sweet.

One of the biggest steps in accepting death is to prepare for it with proper estate planning. Proper estate planning is needed, regardless of how big or small you think your estate is. No matter what, your family is going to have to handle whatever you have when you’re gone.

Indeed, facing life’s greatest fear head-on and using it as an opportunity to protect and provide for your family is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and those you love.

If you’re ready to begin truly living your life, start by working with us to properly plan for the inevitability of death. Contact us today to get started by scheduling a Family Wealth Planning Session.

grandkids bonding time at RMNP

Keeping up with the Grandkids and the Gift of Grandparenting

As life expectancy increases, the role of a grandparent has grown. A strong grandparent-grandchild connection helps us to be physically active and socially engaged and improves healthy development in kids. I share my insights on how special the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren can be and how to make it as rewarding as possible.
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Love Never Tasted So Sweet

On one of my first visits shortly after the “grands” had departed Colorado, I arrived to find my grandson, Lincoln, beyond excited. He told me that he had the best special gift for me. He stressed the “best special gift” repeatedly. He could barely contain his excitement as the joy spread across his little face when he spoke.
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family-frolickling-in-a-field

Summertime is Family Time: 12 Fun Summer Activities

Estate planning is more than putting strategies in place to protect and pass on your wealth. Your intellectual, spiritual, and human assets are just as, if not more, essential. Time spent with family strengthens your bonds and passes on your values. There is never a better time to get together than summertime.
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What More Can We Learn from the Tiger King’s Estate Planning Mistakes Part #2

Anyone who has seen the hit Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness can attest that it’s one of the most outlandish stories to come out in a year full of outlandish stories. Outlandish is a nice word for how I really feel about the show.

Over seven episodes, Tiger King provides several shocking, real-life examples of how estate planning can go horribly wrong if it’s undertaken without trusted legal guidance.

A Tale of Two Wills

In part one of this newsletter series, we focused on the estate planning mistakes made by Don Lewis, the late husband of Carole Baskin. Don, a multi-millionaire who helped Carole build the Big Cat Rescue, mysteriously disappeared in 1997. Following Don’s disappearance, Carole produced a copy of Don’s will and power of attorney, which named Carole as his executor in his will and his agent in his power of attorney.

In his will, Don left Carole nearly his entire estate—estimated to be worth $6 million—while leaving his three adult daughters from a previous marriage with just 10% of his assets. However, Don’s daughters claimed the documents Carole produced were fraudulent and contended that their father was getting ready to divorce Carole. Due to the impending split, Don created a will that left his daughters the bulk of his estate, while largely disinheriting Carole. Yet, because Don created this will on his own without the assistance of a lawyer, he failed to make and distribute copies of his plan to his daughters—or anyone else.

Although this is as far into the story as Tiger King gets—and where we left off in part one—more facts have come to light since the documentary aired that make the story even more scandalous, while also offering us additional estate planning lessons.

The Plot Thickens

After seeing the documentary this year, Chad Chronister, the third Hillsborough County Sheriff in office since Don vanished, reviewed the old case files and assigned new deputies to investigate his disappearance. In June 2020, after enlisting the help of two handwriting experts, the sheriff declared the will produced by Carole as “100% a forgery.”

This was something Don’s daughters always suspected, but were unable to successfully prove on their own due to a lack of financial resources. After Carole first filed her copy of Don’s Will and power of attorney with the court in September 1997 (a month following his disappearance), Don’s daughters challenged those documents in court as forgeries.

Court documents show that in November 1997, Don’s daughters hired a handwriting expert to examine their father’s signatures on the planning documents Carole produced. The expert concluded that the signatures were forged, noting that they had likely been traced from Don and Carole’s marriage certificate.

But Carole hired two of her own handwriting experts that concluded the signatures on Don’s documents were genuine. At the time, Don’s daughters said they didn’t have the money to continue to fight Carole over the forgery issue, so they chose not to further challenge the documents, and the court sided with Carole.

However, given the new proof of forgery, can Don’s daughters further challenge Carole in court in an attempt to recover their rightful share of his assets? Sadly, it looks highly unlikely at this late date.

The Clock Is Always Ticking

Under Florida law, the general statute of limitations for legally challenging a will is four years from the date the will was filed, which expired in 2001. And while Florida’s general statute of limitations for challenging a will can sometimes be extended for up to 12 years in cases of fraud, that term expired in 2009.

On the criminal side, both the sheriff and Florida Attorney General noted that the five-year statute of limitations for prosecuting Carole for forgery has also run. In Florida, there’s no statute of limitations for murder, and the sheriff said they were pursuing new leads as of July. So, there’s a chance that Carole could be convicted on a charge related to Don’s death, and if so, she would be forced to give up all of the assets she inherited from him. (Colorado’s statute of limitations for murder is 10 years, interestingly enough, so Carole would be home free. I share that with you to emphasize how each state’s laws can be so different, which is why we emphasize that your estate plan be reviewed when you move to a different state.)

Florida, like most states, has a “slayer statute” that prevents anyone “who unlawfully and intentionally kills or participates in procuring the death of the decedent” from benefiting from their will (Yes, Colorado also has a “slayer statute”). Yet even if that were to happen, it’s unlikely that Don’s daughters would be able to recover anything close to what they would be entitled to, especially since Carole has had control of Don’s assets for nearly two decades already.

Given these new facts, what actions should have been taken to prevent such an epic tragedy from occurring? This leads us to our second lesson:

Lesson Two: To avoid putting your loved ones through the unnecessary trauma and expense of litigating potential conflicts over your estate after something happens to you (and it’s too late), invest the time and money now to get planning in place with a lawyer.

Although Don was quite wealthy, according to almost everyone who knew him, he never came across as such. In fact, he was a notorious penny pincher, who reportedly was even willing to go “dumpster diving” if it meant he could save a dollar or two. In light of this, Don undoubtedly thought that he could save time and money by creating his own planning documents without consulting a lawyer.

Yet as we can see, trying to cut corners and save a few bucks by taking the DIY route with your planning documents is a huge mistake. Indeed, the potential consequences and costs to your loved ones can ultimately far exceed whatever minor savings in time and money you hoped to achieve by not enlisting the assistance of an attorney. As we pointed out last week, if Don had created his estate plan with the support of an experienced estate planning lawyer, none of this would have happened.

And that same lesson applies here as well, particularly in light of these new facts. Had Don worked with a trusted lawyer to create, maintain, and update his plan, Carole would have been unable to pass off forged documents supposedly created by Don in 1996. And that’s because his lawyers, loved ones, and the court would all have certified copies of Don’s most recent plan, rendering any previous versions invalid.

The reason you spend the time and money upfront to hire an attorney to put a proper plan in place is to prevent your loved ones from ever needing to hire their own lawyer down the road. Once something happens to you, whether it’s your eventual death or in the event of your incapacity, it’s too late—you must act now. By working with us, your local estate planning lawyer, we can plan ahead to predict and prevent any potential for conflict that might arise over your estate, and we can also help ensure that there won’t be any legal grounds for your plan to be successfully contested.

Moreover, we can also ensure that your loved ones, along with anyone who might have reason to dispute your plan, are fully aware of the reasons and intentions behind every choice you made in your plan—and they learn about these choices while you’re still around. In fact, we often recommend holding a family meeting (which we can facilitate) to go over everything with all impacted parties.

Contact us today to ensure your plan works exactly as intended, and your family isn’t subjected to a nightmare scenario like the one Don’s daughters experienced and are still dealing with to this day.

But what about Joe?

Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about Carole’s tabloid-headlining legal battle with Mr. Tiger King himself, Joe Exotic. We’ll explore the highlights of their epic feud—and offer more estate planning lessons based on it—in our third and final article in this series in the next two weeks.


This article is a service of Cris Carter Law. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 to $750 session at no charge.

Tiger King – Estate Planning Mistakes Part #1

You would have to be on another planet to have not heard of the hit Netflix documentary Tiger King that came out in the spring of 2020. I did not watch it, but I heard a lot of hype about it as millions of Americans tuned in. Why was it so popular? You got me. The only reason I can come up with for its viewer popularity is the outlandish stories of big cats (tigers, lions, etc.), murder-for-hire, polygamy, and a missing millionaire.

Recently, I started to watch the show myself. Notice I said started to watch. That’s right – I only started to watch it to see what all the hype was about. Now before you become tempted to watch it, be forewarned that I would rate it “R” and this isn’t the type of show that I would recommend watching. WHY? Because it is akin to a bad soap opera. The only redeeming quality that I could find is that the series actually does allow for some lessons of what not to do in estate planning. So, in the name of education, let’s look at the real-life examples of estate planning gone wrong, as we wade through the Tiger King characters and see what disasters could have been avoided with proper planning.

The Feud

While the documentary’s dastardly, twisted plot is far too complicated to fully summarize, it focuses primarily on the bitter rivalry between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin, who are both owners and breeders of big cats. Joe, the self-professed “Tiger King,” whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, runs a roadside zoo in Oklahoma filled with more than a hundred tigers, lions, and other assorted animals.

Carole is the owner of Big Cat Rescue, a Florida-based sanctuary for big cats rescued from captivity. As an avid animal rights activist, Carole goes on a public crusade against Joe, seeking to have his zoo shut down, claiming that he exploits, abuses, and kills the animals under his care. In retaliation, Joe launches an extensive media campaign of his own against Carole, in which he accuses her of murdering her late husband, millionaire Don Lewis, and feeding his remains to her tigers. The feud between Joe and Carole goes on for decades, and it ultimately peaks after Carole wins a million-dollar trademark infringement lawsuit against Joe.

The legal fees and impending judgment from the lawsuit nearly bankrupt Joe, eventually pushing him to hire someone to kill Carole. However, instead of killing Carole, the individual Joe hires goes to the FBI and informs them of Joe’s murderous plot. Joe is ultimately arrested for hiring a hitman to kill Carole, along with multiple animal abuse charges, and he’s sentenced to 22 years in federal prison.

Although the clash between Joe and Carole takes center stage and exposes key estate planning concerns related to business ownership and asset protection, the most egregious planning errors are made by Carol’s late husband Don Lewis. In fact, the full extent of duplicity and damage related to these mistakes isn’t even uncovered by the documentary, and have only recently come to light following renewed public interest in the case sparked by the show. You gotta love a cold case mystery!

So let’s look first at the tragic results that Don’s poor planning yields for him and his loved ones.

The Missing Millionaire

Don, a fellow big-cat enthusiast who helped Baskin start Big Cat Rescue, mysteriously disappeared in 1997 and hasn’t been seen since. After Carole had Don declared legally dead in 2002, Carole produced a copy of Don’s Will that named her as Executor and left nearly all of Don’s entire estate to Carol. Yes, that’s right; an estimated $6 million dollars. Don’s daughters from a previous marriage were left with just 10% of his assets. However, the planning documents Carole produced were deemed suspicious by multiple people who were close to Don for a number of reasons. Don’s daughters and his first wife claim that Don and Carole were having serious marital problems before he disappeared, and that Don was planning to divorce Carole. As evidence of this, we learn that Don sought a restraining order against Carole just two months before he vanished, in which he alleges Carole threatened to kill him. A judge denied the restraining order, saying there was “no immediate threat of violence.”

Don’s daughters also claim that around the time the restraining order was filed, their father created a Will that left the vast majority of his estate to them, and he did so in order to minimize any claims Carole might have to his property should he pass away. Additionally, Don’s administrative assistant, Anne McQueen, said that before he disappeared, Don gave her an envelope containing his new Will and a power of attorney document, in which he named Anne as his executor and power of attorney agent, not Carole. Anne said Don told her to take the envelope to the police if anything should happen to him. According to Anne, the envelope with Don’s planning documents was kept in a lock box in Don’s office, but she claims Carole broke into the office and took the documents 10 days after he disappeared. At the time, Anne was being interviewed by detectives when she received a call from the alarm company, letting her know that the alarm in Don’s office had been triggered.

When police arrived, they found Carole removing files from the trailer that served as Don’s office. She was being helped by her father and Don’s handyman. The handyman had cut the locks, and according to Anne, this was because Carole didn’t have a key. Later that day, Carole had the entire trailer hauled to the grounds of the big cat sanctuary. Anne told detectives that Carole removed the trailer and its contents in order to destroy his planning documents stored in the lockbox. From there, Anne believes Carole forged the will and power of attorney she ultimately presented to the court.

Carole vehemently denied all of these claims. In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Carole said she moved the office trailer because her father claimed he saw Anne removing files from it a day earlier. She also insisted she never threatened Don’s life, and that he disappeared on one of his many trips to Costa Rica. She further claims that Don sought to disinherit his children in his Will, and it was only at Carole’s suggestion that Don left them anything at all.

Although law enforcement investigated Don’s disappearance from Tampa to Costa Rica, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said the investigation failed to uncover any physical evidence, only a conflicting series of stories and dead ends. In light of this, Don’s estate passed through probate in 2002, and his assets were distributed according to the terms of the will Carole presented, leaving Carole with the bulk of his $6-million estate, and leaving Don’s daughters with just a small fraction of his assets.

Just goes to show you that truth is stranger than fiction. While there’s always more to the story, let’s first look at the planning mistakes Don made and how they could have been easily prevented.

Lesson 1: Always work with an experienced estate planning lawyer when creating or updating your planning documents, especially if you have a blended family.

If Don’s children and assistant are correct and Don actually created a will that left his daughters the bulk of his estate and disinherited Carole, it appears he did so without the assistance of an attorney. Big Mistake Number One. We all know that there are numerous do-it-yourself (DIY) estate planning websites that allow you to create various planning documents within a matter of minutes for relatively little expense. Well, when you do a DIY estate plan instead of using the services of a trusted advisor to guide you and your family, the documents can easily disappear or be changed. In the end—and when it’s too late to do anything about it, taking the DIY route can cost your family far more than not creating any plan at all.

Even people who think their particular planning situation is simple, that turns out to almost never be the case. As we know, there are a number of complications inherent to DIY estate plans that can cause them to be ruled invalid by a court, while also creating unnecessary conflict and expense for the very people you are trying to protect with your plan.

And while it’s always a good idea to have a lawyer help you create your planning documents, this is exponentially true when you have a blended family like Don’s. Blended families from a second (or more) marriage, with children from a prior marriage, create an inherent risk of dispute because of the conflicting interests. The more wealth there is, the greater the conflict becomes. The risk for conflict is significantly increased if you are seeking to disinherit or favor one part of your family over another, as Don was claimed to have done with Carole. In fact, in Florida, the law prevents one spouse from completely disinheriting the other in their estate plan, so unless Don was aware of this fact when he cut Carole out of his will, she would still be entitled to one-third of his assets upon his death, no matter what his will stipulated. Remember that each state’s laws are different. That is why having an attorney licensed in the state where you reside is so important. It is near impossible when you create your own plan, even with the help of a DIY service, that you can consider and plan ahead to avoid all the potential legal and family conflicts that could arise. As an attorney, we are not only specially trained to predict and prevent such conflicts, but our unique planning process can actually help create connections among your loved ones and bring your family closer together. In fact, this is our special sauce.

Finally, as we saw with Don, if your loved ones can’t find your planning documents—whether that is because they were misplaced or stolen—it’s as if they never existed in the first place. Yet, if Don had enlisted the support of an experienced planning professional like us, his documents would have been safeguarded from being lost, stolen, or destroyed. When we create or update a plan for our clients, it’s standard practice to not only keep current copies of your estate plan in our office, but to provide those loved ones with the latest updated copies. And we make sure that you discard older versions laying around.

If you’ve yet to create a plan, have DIY documents you aren’t sure about, or have a plan created with another lawyer’s help that hasn’t been reviewed in more than a year, meet with us. We can ensure that your plan will remain safe and work exactly as you intended if something should happen to you.

In two weeks, we’ll continue with part two in this series on estate planning lessons you can learn from the Netflix documentary Tiger King.


This article is a service of Cris Carter Law. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this session valued between $500 to $750, at no charge.