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Time Out: Team Owner Tom Benson’s Estate Hit By Possible Undue Influence


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Brawls over estate plans are common. They usually occur after the death of a primary beneficiary. In the case of Tom Benson and his family, the game started early.

 Worth an estimated $1.87 billion, Tom Benson is a self-made man who built a fortune leveraging car dealerships and banking institutions. In addition to his businesses, Mr. Benson also owns two sports franchises, the New Orleans Saints in the National Football League (NFL), and the Pelicans, a National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise.

Now 87, Mr. Benson created a family firestorm in January of this year by attempting to transition assets previously placed inirrevocable trusts for the benefit of his grandchild, Renee Benson and her two children. If the asset transfer sought by Mr. Benson is approved, control and primary ownership of the sports franchises would pass to the third wife of Mr. Benson, who he married in 2004, after the death of his second wife.

Renee Benson has long been groomed as the heir apparent to the sports empire created by her grandfather. Shortly after Ms. Benson and her children received word they were being cut out of future control of the business, they filed a lawsuit to have Mr. Benson declared mentally fit.

Believing her grandfather unduly influenced by his current wife, Gayle Benson, Rene Benson sought a court ruling giving her authority to protect the property and “person” of Mr. Benson. In February, a court found the following:

  • Benson is under significant pressure.
  • Help should be provided to Mr. Benson in managing his assets.
  • Two receivers were appointed to help Mr. Benson.

Since then, the receivers focused their investigation on the Shirley Benson trust; this trust holds the assets at issue in the case. Control of the fate of the teams appears to rest in the declaration of the ownership of the business assets.

Mr. Benson holds half the company—plus one share—and Renee Benson and her two children own the rest. In a court filing, the receiver’s report they do not believe Mr. Benson is entitled to the one extra share that imparts control of the businesses interests held in trust. The receivers recommend the extra share be split, or given to the Shirley Benson trust—a move that end runs the attempt of Mr. Benson to call the shots.

As multiple lawsuits play out, the results of a medical examination of Mr. Benson are expected soon. Is Mr. Benson being inappropriately influenced by his wife to cut out his long-time heirs? Is Renee Benson herself seeking undue influence? Is it a little of both? Time and the court will tell.

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