Image Credit: Jeffrey Beall
The collateral damage to families from Alzheimer's disease is always enormous. That's the reason I highlighted the disease in my recent book, Alzheimer's, Widowed Stepmothers & Estate Crimes -because I've seen it firsthand. Alzheimer's is one of the most common elements in both estate battles and estate crimes. When a senior loses capacity, especially when he or she is financially well-off, there are always people who try to use that to their advantage.
The most recent public example involves the ownership and control of the Denver Broncos football team.
In 1984, the Bowlen Family purchased the Denver Broncos. Pat Bowlen, his two brothers, John and Bill, and his sister Marybeth became co-owners. Pat was the principal owner and chief executive officer until 2014, when it was announced that he would be stepping away from running the team due to progressive Alzheimer's disease.
Pat's ownership in the Broncos was held in a trust, and when he stepped down, three trustees were appointed to run the team: Those three were: a long-time executive of the Broncos, the team's general counsel, and Pat Bowlen's attorney.
Last October, Pat's brother, Bill, filed a motion in probate court to remove all three trustees. Bill wanted his niece, Beth Bowlen Wallace, to take control of the team, which was something the trustees opposed. Unfortunately for Bill and Beth, she's not the only one who wants the job. Brittany Bowlen, one of Pat Bowlen's children from his second marriage, is favored by the current trustees. If they have their way, Brittany will eventually get the job - but maybe not for a while - she's only 29 years old.
Those three trustees had hoped that the NFL might step in and resolve the dispute, but so far that hasn't happened. The case continues in Arapahoe County Probate Court and may someday go to trial.
The question in this and cases like it is whether the wishes of the person who created a trust are being defended by the trustees who are running the trust.
Replacing trustees who aren't competent or aren't doing their job is something we routinely do here at Hackard Law. But replacing trustees who may be conscientiously trying to do the right thing is more challenging. What would Pat Bowlen want? That's the multi-billion dollar question a court may need to answer. And while he's still alive, his mental incapacity has created this ongoing family feud.
The lesson is clear for those who have assets they seek to protect and pass along to their family: No succession plan is foolproof, and it's never too early to create an estate plan. Had Pat Bowlen named a successor before his mental capacity became an issue, perhaps his family could have avoided what may become a bruising litigation fight.
Before you go, please let me know if you'd like to receive a free copy of my first book, The Wolf at the Door, or my new book, Alzheimer's, Widowed Stepmothers & Estate Crimes. Just send your address in an email to me at [email protected], and I'll be glad to put one in the mail.