During 2016, Americans saw a number of public battles related to the mental competency of some of the rich and famous. Tom Benson, predominant owner of the New Orleans Saints of the NFL and the New Orleans Pelicans, of the NBA, battled with various members of his family. Somewhat similarly, Sumner Redstone, significant shareholder in both Viacom and CBS, did legal jousting not only with family members, but also with an estranged girlfriend. In both cases, persons close to the billionaires contended the men had lost their touch with reality, that they were incompetent to handle their own affairs. While both Benson and Redstone ultimately prevailed in the ensuing skirmishes, a lot of dirty laundry was laid out for the public.
Is your family at risk for a competency dispute? While every family situation is unique and the legal issues vary, experts point to a number of factors that can lead to disputes over a dominant family member’s competence. Here are three such factors:
It should come as no surprise that the larger the estate, the greater the risk of a competency struggle. Money doesn’t buy happiness. In all too many cases, however, it can buy conflict. Where large sums are at stake, loyalty can dissipate. Where power has been held in one person for a significant period of time, the seeds of conflict can be easily sown.
Redstone is in his 90s. At the time of Benson’s competency litigation, he was 88 years old. Age is an important factor in competency matters. What is more, it isn’t just the age of the primary controlling party that causes issues. When that party is, like Redstone and Benson, 85 years or older, the next generation is itself moving on in age. “Children” in their 60s may feel as if they will never have a say in the distribution and investment of the family wealth. They may seek to move “Father” or “Mother” aside in order that they can have the wealth and power that they have sought for so long.
Every family has its dynamics, but if there are unresolved issues within the family, these can fester and cause legal problems. For example, does a child feel jilted because of the attention given another? Did a member of the family give up his or her dream so as to smooth out the path for another? Sibling rivalries are particularly problematic. Many families would benefit from a real sit-down discussion of any outstanding issues.
In past years, competency issues generally arose only after a person’s death. They traditionally involved will contests and inheritance disputes. Face it: Texans – indeed, the entire country – continues to age. Medical science has extended life expectancy to the point now that many of us might reach the century mark. Legal experts posit that competency disputes will not be confined to the probate court – just as was the case with Redstone and Benson, younger members of the family may grow impatient as the seniors continue to wield power.
Whether you are defending a competency claim or attempting to establish that a dominant family member has reached a point where he or she can no longer reliably handle business affairs, you will find that the counsel of a skilled and experienced estate attorney is crucial. The attorneys at Romano & Sumner have more than 20 years of combined experience providing expert legal assistance to clients. We have successfully represented parties in all sorts of estate and competency disputes. With our extensive litigation experience, we can take your case as far as necessary.
At Romano & Sumner, we pride ourselves not only on our professionalism, but also upon our client service. We know that each situation is unique. We return phone calls within one business day. We keep our clients well informed as to the status of their case. We complete the work within the allotted time frame. Call us at 281-242-0995 or complete our online contact form.
Romano & Sumner, PLLC