Saints owner Tom Benson, center, with wife Gayle (L) and granddaughter Rita Benson (R). Photo: New York Post.
When the competency of a party in a trust dispute comes into question, expert knowledge is needed to determine an individual's mental fitness and how it plays a role in the case. Right now in Louisiana, such a process is unfolding around Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans. Benson's commercial empire, worth nearly $2 billion, is at stake after his daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren, Rita and Ryan Leblanc, have decided to contest the elder Benson's fitness to run the business.
The feud between Benson and his daughter began in December 2014, when the Saints owner revised his trust to exclude Renee and the grandchildren from ownership of his franchises in favor of his wife of 10 years, Gayle. Renee is claiming that her father, now 87 years old, is no longer mentally competent to manage his affairs, let alone those of a multibillion enterprise. In addition, Renee asserts that Gayle is exerting undue influence on Benson as part of an attempt to seize control of the family fortune.
In order to properly evaluate the allegations Renee has brought forward, medical professionals have been called into the case. Dr. Ted Bloch III, a specialist on geriatrics and Alzheimer's disease, provided his expert testimony June 4th on behalf of Renee's legal team. Meanwhile, Dr. John Thompson, chief of adult psychiatry at Tulane University, was retained by Benson's attorneys and will render his own analysis of the prominent businessman's mental state. For purposes of fairness, a third physician, Dr. Kenneth Sakauye of the University of Tennessee, was chosen by both sides to also evaluate Benson.
While Renee Benson's attorneys say they're confident that what they've heard so far will demonstrate her father's incapacity and Gayle's undue influence, the standards are high. As the Times-Picayune reports:
Experts say proving a case for incompetency and undue influence is difficult. Lawyers would have to show Benson doesn't understand what's happening with his property or the consequences of his decisions, experts say, while proving undue influence would require evidence of Benson being under complete manipulation by someone else.
Such testimony will prove key to establishing Benson's continuing ownership of his assets or, if claims of unfitness are proven true, a shift in control to Renee and the grandchildren. Regardless, with multiple moving parts to the case from Texas to Louisiana, litigation in this trust dispute will continue for the forseeable future. And while litigation might give us attorneys plenty of work, it often sucks away time, money, and emotional stamina from the parties involved, which seems to be the case with the Benson family.