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Should an estate plan contemplate the possibility of incapacity?

Life can be unpredictable. To plan for the unexpected, every individual should consider creating an estate plan. A recent article profiling a prominent businessman’s dispute with his heirs serves as an important reminder against being caught unaware.

The example is taken from the life of 87-year-old Tom Benson, who owns the New Orleans Saints, as well as a chain of auto dealerships. Benson's previous estate plan involved turning over control of his NFL team to his daughter and granddaughter. In fact, his granddaughter even served on the team’s board until a few months ago, when her ties to the team were severed. 

When Benson had a change of heart and decided to name his third wife as the team’s successor, a dispute arose. Benson allegedly instructed his dealerships to ban his daughter and granddaughter from the premises. Yet the team was not the only inheritance vehicle that Benson had in mind for his daughter and granddaughter. He also created a testamentary trust for them, and served as its trustee.  

In response to the revised estate plan, Benson’s daughter and granddaughter filed a lawsuit, alleging that Benson had breached his fiduciary duties as trustee by cutting off relations with them and allegedly failing to pay management fees and various taxes of the trust on time. They also sought to have him declared unfit to run his businesses. 

A probate court judge agreed and suspended Benson from his duties as trustee. In Benson’s place, the judge appointed two receivers. The judge also ordered Benson to submit to independent medical evaluations to determine his competency, including one by a geriatric psychiatrist.

Could this dispute have been avoided? An attorney might recommend an estate plan that provides for medical decision-making and the possibility of unexpected incapacity. Contact our law firm to learn how.

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

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