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Succession, incapacity, trust issues: all on board in Saints case

As we have previously noted for readers from time to time, estate planning-related stories involving high-profile individuals and families are sometimes much more than pure entertainment fodder.

Put another way: They can put a quick and potent spotlight on relevant topics ranging from will contests and probate administration to relevant elder law considerations and long-term care planning.

In other words, they command attention, and that can sometimes be a good thing for readers who, while perusing a story, might start to think about its subject matter in a personal way.

Doing so can promote timely and appropriate estate planning moves that can be beneficial for a person and his or her family down the road.

With that in mind, we provide a few details regarding the quite public spat between Tom Benson, the 87-year-old owner of the New Orleans Saints professional football team, and his wife and granddaughter.

The family is involved in what seems to be an almost perfect storm of estate planning uncertainties involving business succession, incapacity issues and bickering focused on a testamentary trust.

In a nutshell, Benson is now seeking to change his mind about leaving control of the Saints to his daughter and granddaughter, backtracking from earlier agreements and now making his third wife his business successor.

That has resulted in a battle over Benson's mental competency, with his granddaughter seeking a judicial determination that Benson is mentally unfit to weigh in on business decisions. Benson's daughter and granddaughter are also contending that Benson has not properly performed his duties as trustee of a family trust.

A recent media story on the family arguments notes the heightened difficulties posed by both succession and incapacitation issues. It states that the problems could have been materially mitigated by an earlier focus on them and that Benson's lawyers and estate planners should have seen storm clouds on the horizon years ago and proactively planned for them.

Most certainly, timely and astute identification of planning considerations and responding to them in a legally solid way is a core concern and central task for every proven estate planning attorney.

A candid and confidential meeting with a client is a logical first step in ensuring that important matters are addressed and that essential planning considerations are fully attended to.

Source: LifeHealthPro, "In estate planning limbo: Ownership of the New Orleans Saints," Tom Nawrocki, March 10, 2015

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