Family members of Helen Plummer said Monday they felt betrayed by elected officials who have stood by Council on Aging Executive Director Tasha Clark Amar despite the family's claims that Amar coerced their grandmother into leaving her a sizable amount of money to oversee her estate.
The family's calls for political leaders to put pressure on Amar to resign came at the same time that several Democrats rallied Monday in support of the agency's director and her work at the Council on Aging to feed and take care of Baton Rouge's elderly population.
The noise around the Baton Rouge Council on Aging has become a partisan issue.
Two Republican Metro Council members have called on Amar to resign, and they and Republican state lawmakers have brought forward measures to bring more oversight to the Council on Aging. At the same time, several Baton Rouge Democrats and the NAACP have defended the agency, arguing at their own news conference on Monday that the recent criticisms of the Council on Aging are tied to the council's successful tax election last fall that will more than double the annual budget.
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But Plummer's grandchildren, Tracie Davis and Dan Freeman, said Monday that their accusations against Amar should not be looked at through a partisan or racial lens. Instead, they said it was "heartbreaking" to see a coalition of black Democratic lawmakers voicing support for the Council. They said they would have liked those lawmakers to reach out to them about their complaints against Amar.
"This is definitely a human issue, not a race issue as we are also African Americans and we were taken advantage of by an African American," Davis said.
Plummer died earlier this month at age 95. She had been a client of the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging's senior centers for a couple years before her death. Her will specified that her assets were to be placed in a trust and Amar should pay herself $500 a month from that trust over the next 20 years to oversee her estate. Amar is not a beneficiary, and Plummer left the money in her estate to two great grandchildren and a grand-niece.
Plummer's family and Amar have filed litigation in the case. Amar's legal representation argues she is entitled to oversee the estate and her will calls Amar "my friend."
"Everything we have done, and I have done as director, has been according to the will and interest of our program’s participants," Amar said in a statement released Monday morning. "I have never used my position to threaten, coerce, or in any way unjustly enrich myself at the expense of a single member of our community. The felonious accusations that have been lodged against me are simply the latest part of a concerted witch-hunt to call into question this organization’s tireless efforts."
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Amar did not respond to a question Monday about whether she has been put in charge of an estate for any other current or former Council on Aging clients.
Plummer's family members said they had never heard of Amar until their grandmother's death, but that they had trouble finding a lawyer to take on their case because Amar is so well-known as the daughter of longtime state 19th Judicial District Court Judge Janice Clark.
"This could be anybody's grandmother, grandfather, mother, father," Davis said.
Davis and Freeman elaborated further on Monday on why they did not believe their grandmother was of "sound of mind" when she wrote the will that left Amar in charge of her estate. Their grandmother told them she did not have a will, and the document drawn up July 7, 2016 as their grandmother's "last will and testament" is littered with inconsistencies and problems uncharacteristic of Plummer, they said.
The will misspells the name of Plummer's own daughter — Jacquelyn Antoine, which is spelled as "Jacqueline Antwine." And the birthdays for both Davis and Freeman's daughters, who are left as beneficiaries in the will, are each off by a year, they said. They also said their frugal grandmother never would have thought it was OK to leave someone $500 a month to oversee her estate.
Using a flat fee to pay Amar to be the trustee of Plummer's estate is somewhat unusual, said LSU Law Center Professor Elizabeth Carter, who specializes in estate planning, successions and trusts.
"Honestly, it's a little weird to just give someone a flat fee for the duration of the trust, for the very nature that the needs of a trust can vary from time to time," Carter said. "The two more common approaches to trustee billing are either to do it based on time, particularly if you have an attorney or CPA as the trustee, they would typically bill at an hourly rate. Or they'll do it as a percentage of assets or a percentage of trust income."
Court documents show that there is at least $314,000 in the trust, based on Plummer's assets. The customary fee for an executor of a will — which is different from a trustee, though Amar is serving as both — is 2.5 percent of a gross estate if not otherwise specified in a will, according to the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure. If Plummer's will were to pay Amar the customary executor amount, or to use that percentage to determine what to pay her as trustee, it would amount to $7,850 rather than the $120,000 Amar would collect for being trustee over the next 20 years until the youngest beneficiaries turn 30.
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The other questions raised from Plummer's will are why she did not will any property or money to her lone living daughter or to her grandchildren, Carter said. Plummer's daughter, Jacquelyn Antoine, currently lives in a New Orleans home that Plummer owned. And Antoine argues in court documents that she would have no place to go without the home, even though Plummer knew her daughter was living there.
"Anytime you see that, it tells you there's something more to the story here," Carter said.
Davis and Freeman said that their family maintained great relationships and that they took care of their grandmother until she died. They said they were shocked to see a "For Sale" sign at their grandmother's Baton Rouge home off Flannery Road.
Among the public officials who attended the news conference defending the Council on Aging on Monday were State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge; State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge; State Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge; State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge and Democratic Metro Councilman LaMont Cole.
Instead of focusing on Plummer's case, the group tried to reframe the bigger picture of the criticisms against the Council on Aging, saying it was unfair for Republicans who never supported the agency to call for increased oversight now that it has more money. And the group praised the caretaking of seniors that Amar has overseen at the Council on Aging.
"What I do know is Tasha Amar's character," Marcelle said. "I've worked with her for a number of years...I don't know anything about the family to credit or discredit them."
Freeman, Plummer’s grandson, ended up crashing the press conference as it was beginning, arguing for more than two minutes that Amar was making unfounded allegations against the Plummer family. He then abruptly left.
A hearing in Plummer's succession case was originally scheduled for Monday morning, but was then cancelled after Antoine's attorney Tiffany Myles Crosby wrote a letter to the court saying a proposed resolution in the Plummer succession was pending. State Judge Don Johnson has scheduled a status conference on the case for April 6.