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The Big Messy (Part Deux)

As I posted the other day, Tom Benson, the owner of the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans, recently changed his estate plan to leave his ownership interests in his teams to his 3rd wife instead of his granddaughter.  His granddaughter and other relatives filed suit alleging that he is incompetent and that his changed plan should be barred by the court.  Among other allegations, his family claims that when questioned he thought the current U.S.  President was Reagan or Truman.  He also allegedly lives on “candy, ice cream, sodas, and red wine” and forgot his daughter’s birthday.  The lawsuit portrays his wife, Gayle Benson, as a gold digger.  She allegedly has removed all photos of his daughter and grandchildren from their house while he has changed all of his previous medical care providers.

Several points:

1.  Grounds for contesting a will/trust are absence of mental incapacity (not knowing what one is doing and who one’s heirs would usually be) and undue influence (one person convinces another to leave assets to him/her due to proximity to that person).

2.  On the surface, it seems like there is some evidence of both a lack of mental capacity and undue influence in this matter.

3.  Don’t we all wish that we could live on “candy, ice cream, sodas,and red wine” and that Ronald Reagan was still president?

4.  It would be more appropriate if Gayle Benson were in line to inherit the 49’ers because they are named after real gold diggers.

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The Big Messy

Tom Benson, the 87 year old owner of the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans, recently announced changes to his succession plan.  For years, his granddaughter, Rita LeBlanc, was designated as the future owner of the teams.  Benson has since changed his mind and declared that his 3rd wife, Gayle Benson, whom he married ten years ago will run the teams in the future.  He also sent a letter to his granddaughter, grandson, and daughter stating that he no longer wishes to see them or communicate with them.  He also banned them from attending Saints and Pelicans games because of the way they allegedly treated his new wife (and now future owner of the teams). Of course, the three of them have filed suit seeking to have him declared incompetent.

Several points:

1.  Purely from an estate tax viewpoint, leaving the teams to his wife makes sense because as his spouse she will not have to pay estate taxes on the bequests until her death.  The bequest to the granddaughter would have been subject to both a 40% estate tax and additional 40% generation skipping tax rate for a combined transfer tax bill of $640 million due to the billion dollar Saints alone.  The granddaughter likely would have had to sell the teams to pay this bill.

2.   Although the change in succession plan can easily be justified for death tax reasons alone, a note telling family members to never visit him again and forbidding them from attending sporting events is extreme and was guaranteed to provoke a lawsuit from the family members.

3.  As a practical matter, all children, not just those of billionaire NFL owners, should bend over backwards to accommodate an elderly parent’s new spouse lest they find themselves as disinherited “po boys” or “po girls.”

 

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All Posts By Jay Brinker

I am an attorney located in Cincinnati, Ohio who practices in the areas of estate planning, probate, asset protection, and small business advice. I make a difficult and bewildering process as simple as possible. Most importantly, I provide "more for less" for my clients.