Issues Affecting Tom Benson Estate

As a Louisiana estate planning attorney, I'm asked often by Saints fans what's going on with the Estate or Succession of Tom Benson. Quite a bit has been written and reported on his estate, so I thought I'd share a few of my own observations about what has happened thus far.

The Will. Mr. Benson's last will and testament leaves his estate to a Revocable Trust. The terms of this trust are not public record. However, in his will, he stated that if his revocable trust does not exist when he dies, he leaves his estate to another trust, the terms of which are in his will. I imagine that the terms of the trust in his will are similar to the terms of his revocable trust.

The trust in his will provides that his wife will receive the income from the trust for the rest of her life, and upon her death, the trust principal will go half to his wife's estate, and half to his charitable foundation. 

There is a 2017 codicil to the will which ensures that the bequest to his revocable trust includes his trust plus subsequent amendments he may make to his trust.

Executor. Normally, an executor is entitled to executor compensation of 2.5% of the assets. If Mr. Benson has a $3 billion estate, then under the default rules, the executor would be entitled to, presumably, a $75 million fee. However, Mr. Benson stated that his revocable trust would dictate executor compensation.

Forced Heirs. Mr. Benson specifically attempted to exclude his descendants. No discussion in Louisiana regarding the exclusion of descendants can take place without mentioning forced heirship. If it is determined that he has a forced heir, the forced heir would be entitled to 1/4 of his estate. We'll see if his suriviving child attempts to assert forced heirship rights. There's a lot at stake.

Witness. It is worth noting that the Archbishop is a witness to Mr. Benson's last will. When a will is challenged, the testimony of the notary and the witnesses often plays a key role in the determination of capacity.

Estate Tax. By leaving his estate to a trust that provides income to his wife for her lifetime, there is likely to be little or no federal estate tax due at this time. His estate will pass pursuant to the federal estate tax marital deduction into his wife's estate. Potentially, there would be a 40% estate tax due on the value of the assets when Gayle dies. However, if assets are left to charity, estate tax is avoided.

I admire the business acumen and charitable work that Mr. Benson accomplished during his lifetime. We'll see how his estate plays out in the coming months and years ahead. It is likely to be a public proceeding played out in the Orleans Parish courts.

This post is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal advice. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read on this site. Using this site or communicating with Rabalais Estate Planning, LLC, through this site does not form an attorney/client relationship.

Paul Rabalais
Louisiana Estate Planning Attorney
Phone: (225) 329-2450