New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans owner, Tom Benson, is currently involved in a family dispute and a series of judicial proceedings emerging from changes in his estate planning documents. After becoming displeased with the way his daughter—Renee Benson—and her two kids, Rita and Ryan, began acting upon his remarriage, Mr. Benson decided to strip his descendants of ownership shares of the Saints and Pelicans. These ownership shares were provided for in trusts that Benson had created to benefit Renee, Rita, and Ryan. However, under the terms of the trusts, removal of the shares requires that Mr. Benson replace them with other assets of equal value. Benson has tried to fulfill this obligation, but his attempts have proven futile as the trustees have refused to accept promissory notes Benson has attempted to deliver in exchange for the ownership interest in the sports teams. The trustees believe that Benson has not offered assets equal to the value of the ownership interests, as questions still exist as to the dollar value of the assets.
Under Florida law, if the terms of the trust dictate that a third party has the authority to control the actions of a trustee, that third-party authority may be owed deference over the trustee’s discretionary power. See In re Celotex Corp., 487 F.3d 1320 (11th Cir. 2007). If this case was being litigated in Florida and Benson had reserved the authority to control the actions of the funds’ trustees, litigation may have been avoided. Needless to say, a well-written and comprehensive estate plan can make all the difference when flexibility is necessary to handle previously unforeseen circumstances.