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Paul Walker, Sumner Redstone, and Tom Benson Updates

tom bensonBriefly updating three stories previously mentioned.

1. Paul Walker’s teenaged daughter settled a wrongful death lawsuit for $10 million against the driver of the Porsche in which he was riding at the time of his death in 2013. The settlement actually occurred nearly 18 months ago, but was only recently reported. Her lawsuit against Porsche for manufacturing an allegedly defective vehicle is still ongoing.

2. Sumner Redstone settled the lawsuit filed by his former girlfriend, Manuela Herzner, questioning his capacity to remove her as his health care surrogate and presumably his capacity to revise his will to omit her. She was allegedly slated to receive $50 million plus an expensive house. The settlement is reportedly for less than $70 million.

3. Last, the Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled that the court records regarding Tom Benson’s competency hearings should remain sealed and unavailable to the public. After the Harper Lee probate judge sealed her estate proceedings, it seems that Southern courts have a proclivity for privacy while their predecessors acted in hooded robes for their secrecy.

Father’s Day, Fashion, and Football

On Father’s Day, let’s briefly recap the will of fashion designer, Oscar De La Renta, who died last Fall.  It was recently reported that he snubbed his adopted son, Moises, in his will because he was upset that his then 20 year old son had tried to compete with him in the fashion design business by producing five or six pieces under his own name 10 years ago.  De La Renta left $18 million of real estate to his second wife of 25 years, then put the rest in trust for her, her children, and his son.  That amount likely was $5.34 million.

Several points:

1.  Funds left to his wife will not be subject to estate taxation until her death while leaving anything in excess of $5.34 million in trust or to his son will be taxed at a rate of 40%.

2.  Context is everything.   I doubt De La Renta was so insecure as to have been threatened or annoyed by his son’s attempt to follow him into the business.  Reporting that the son was disinherited for that reason makes for a nice narrative, albeit false.

3.  After 25 years of marriage, it is not unusual to leave a significant portion of an estate to a spouse, even if there are children from a prior marriage.  Leaving a football team worth $1 billion to a third wife of 10 years is questionable, though, Tom Benson.

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The Big Messy (Update – Part Trois)

The competency of Tom Benson, the owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans, has been challenged by his family in separate court filings in Texas and New Orleans.  The Texas judge has decreed that Benson needs assistance managing the assets in a Benson family trust.  He appointed two receivers to temporarily replace Benson as trustee.  They are not expected to make dramatic changes to his business holdings.  The New Orleans judge ordered Benson to undergo a psychiatric examination to determine his competency to make the proposed changes to his succession plan.

Three quick points:

1.  This is merely the first round in a likely fifteen round bout.  When billions are at stake, the fight will be long and will not likely be resolved during Mr. Benson’s lifetime.

2.  I doubt that a competent and uninfluenced man would move $25 million out of his family owned bank to a competitor and tell his car dealership manager that he is the only person in San Antonio he trusts.

3.  It is a shame that the court appointed receivers do not have authority to hire a new coordinator for the Saints’s second worst in the league defense.

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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.