Tiger King Highlights Intriguing Estate Planning Issues

From a legal perspective, the hit documentary ‘Tiger King’ is intriguing due to the twisted legal, criminal and ethical issues raised throughout the show, among other things, of course.  One of the more interesting legal issues is the claim that a husband’s estate planning documents, including a will and power of attorney, disappeared at the same time he did.  His disappearance was then followed quickly by his wife discovering a new Durable Family Power of Attorney which stated it “shall not be affected by any disability or disappearance.”  Normally a power of attorney becomes void upon the passing of the individual.  Coincidentally, the husband in the documentary was not declared deceased until he had been missing for five years.  Therefore, his wife had ample time to utilize her powers under the power of attorney to move assets and conduct other business on the husband’s behalf.

One should be aware that a durable power of attorney is effective immediately upon execution, allowing the designated power of attorney to make essentially all financial decisions on the principal’s behalf.  It is often the case that upon an individual’s passing or incapacitation, there are family members who are surprised to find there are multiple versions of wills and powers of attorney or an entirely different version than what they had been told existed.

This can be a result of something as simple as the individual forgetting to discard older versions of the documents, or in more unfortunate instances, can be the result of undue influence or even fraud. If there is a concern over whether a document is legitimate or was the product of undue influence, it is important to promptly take action.  In New Jersey, for instance, a person must bring a will challenge within four months after probate of the will (or within six months if the aggrieved party resided outside of New Jersey at the time of probate).  Certain statutes of limitations may apply to challenges to a power of attorney’s actions or inactions.

If you have a concern over the validity of an estate planning document or whether a power of attorney or other fiduciary is fulfilling his/her duties, please do not hesitate to contact Ward, Shindle & Hall.  We hope you and your families are doing as well as possible under the circumstances and we remain available to discuss any of the above issues or your own estate planning documents.