Five Hard Lessons We Can Learn from Tom Benson

As a Saints fan, I’ve suffered through the good, the bad and the ugly with our boys in the black and gold. And while we can’t do anything to avoid heartbreaking losses as sports fans, I would like to share some powerful lessons on the importance of planning to reduce the chances, and the expense and anguish, of losing control over our affairs in our later years.

I was recently interviewed by New Orleans City Business about my thoughts on the current drama surrounding the all-too-public struggle between heirs vying to gain control of Mr. Tom Benson’s substantial estate.

I summarized, as a professional estate planner and attorney, what the petitioners must prove in order to divest Mr. Benson of the ability to manage his own affairs. As a father and a son, I could not help but empathize with all members of this family who are suffering so publicly.

Last month, T. Jay Seale wrote a great blog post about the “Bifocalism of Business Leaders,” where he discussed the unique trait of successful leaders who are able to view complex situations both up close and at a distance simultaneously.

Jay shared that these successful leaders gain this vision over many years, and in no small part, through advice from Trusted Advisors. While the Benson saga will surely serve as a cautionary tale for the ages, below are a few basic tenets we share with our clients when we advise them about estate planning.

Here are five hard lessons everyone should take away from this all-too-common story:

  1. Set up a power of attorney, now. Name the person you want to make decisions on your behalf should you become unable to do so. You can make this shift of decision-making power effective, if you wish, only upon two physicians certifying your mental disability. Having a valid power of attorney can help avoid an interdiction proceeding, thereby keeping the issue out of the courts and minimizing the expense involved.
  2. In that same power of attorney, designate who you want appointed as your curator and undercurator in the event you are interdicted. The curator of your property and your person do not necessarily have to be the same person, but a valid power of attorney is the perfect place to make the designation.
  3. If you are the settlor of a revocable trust, review the trust document to make sure it reflects your wishes as to what happens in the event of your mental incapacity. Check the provisions applicable to both a beneficiary and a trustee if you wear both these hats.
  4. Review your existing estate planning documents every two years or so and make sure your will, powers of attorney, revocable trust, and any other estate planning documents still reflect your wishes.
  5. If you are a principal in a business, review any agreements already in place between you and other business owners to make sure there’s a contingency in place for mental disability. If you don’t have such an agreement, or if the contingency is not adequately addressed, take corrective action to address it now.

While anyone may sue anyone in this day and age, having your wishes set forth in legally valid documents as described above can go a long way toward putting the people you want in charge of your affairs in the event of mental disability, and possibly avoid a public and expensive battle in the courts.

Steven L. McKneely

Steven L. McKneely is a Board Certified Estate Planning and Administration Specialist (by the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization), and is past president of the Northshore Estate Planning Council, an association organized to promote the education of its member professionals engaged in estate and trust planning in the parishes of Tangipahoa, St. Tammany, and Washington.

If you would like to learn more about Steven, or Seale & Ross’ Estate Planning & Succession Services, please visit our website at – – or call our Hammond, Baton Rouge or Madisonville offices to schedule a personal consultation.