The Death of Billionaire Tom Benson Provides Insight Into Privacy in Wills & Trusts and The Dangers of Challenging Your Father’s Competence

Former billionaire owner of the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans, Tom Benson, passed away.  He was on his third wife and there was an apparent fight with his daughter in 2015 over his mental competence regarding running these organizations.  Yes, predictable result.

It should be noted that Wills tend to be made public because they are filed, and Trusts tend to remain private.  Therefore, what goes into a Will is potentially important for the privacy of the family.  In this case, the Will, which has been filed, appears to be a typical Pour-Over Will, which names the Trustee of his Revocable Living Trust as the benefactor of all his property.  However, Mr. Benson did not stop there.

The Will goes on to provide provisions in the event that the Revocable Living Trust is held to be invalid.  He specifically provides that his daughter, Renee Benson, and her children, Rita LeBlanc, Ryan LeBlanc, and all their descendants shall have no interest in his estate whatsoever.  He also indicated that, in no way, would any of these individuals be appointed the Personal Representative/Executor.

Clearly, there were costs to his daughter in attacking his mental competence a few years before his death.  To wit, she and her descendants were apparently excluded.  Although we have not read the Trust, the provision set forth in the Will seems clear.

To put this in the Will, airs this dirty laundry against his said family members for the public to see.  Mr. Benson left no doubt about his desire.  Good for clarity – bad for family.

Finally, we cannot actually know how he intended to control and dispose of his one plus billion dollars, because those provisions will be more adequately set forth in his Trust.  A Trust which is not filed for the world to see.

It is difficult to have an individual deemed incompetent.  Moving forward with such an attempt is dangerous in the extent that it is never well-received by the elderly person.

Win or fail, you will probably harm your relationship with that person and, as indicated in this case, could have significant financial costs.

It is one of the most sensitive and difficult areas of estate planning when a parent is married to a new spouse.  It seems like there is automatic friction between the children of the prior spouse and the current spouse, resulting in friction with the parent.

The moral is that one should move very slowly in challenging the competence of a parent that they believe is making decisions inconsistent with how the child thinks.  In furtherance, I would advise a client to move very slowly in airing such dirty laundry in such a public way; although in this case, it appears very intentional.

A Trust can be private, a Will is not.

It is almost always better for the blended family to try to suck it up and love their parents, even if they don’t agree with all of their decisions.


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