The last will and testament of Tom Benson excludes his daughter and her children by name from any role in running a reportedly multibillion-dollar business empire that includes the Saints and Pelicans, but it doesn't affect many million dollars' worth of property that they'd received from their family patriarch before he died.
In July 2015, a little more than a month after a New Orleans judge found he was mentally fit enough to handle his own affairs, Saints and Peli…
Following Benson's death last week, court records show, his third wife Gayle Benson became the sole beneficiary of an estate controlling New Orleans' NFL and NBA franchises, as well as the Dixie Brewing Co., which officials said enjoyed record-setting sales during the St. Patrick's Day weekend.
Other valuable businesses or properties in the estate include three car dealerships, the site of Benson Tower and Champions Square, a $3.6 million Uptown mansion, a racing stable that sent two horses to the 2016 Kentucky Derby, and a parking lot on Poydras Street frequently used by people attending Saints or Pelicans games.
Meanwhile, though the will as it stands leaves them with nothing more, it's not like daughter Renee Benson, granddaughter Rita LeBlanc and grandson Ryan LeBlanc were left with nothing.
A complex, two-year court battle that erupted in 2015 after they'd fallen out with Benson left them with control of three car dealerships, bank branches and a hunting ranch, all in and around San Antonio, Texas, according to an analysis of various records.
From the Saints in the NFL to the Hornets and Pelicans in the NBA to horses in the Kentucky Derby, Tom Benson shaped the New Orleans sport sce…
Other property they gained control of while Benson, 90, was alive included a private plane, a home on Lake Tahoe and a two-story Old Metairie home assessed at $1.3 million.
Louisiana law gives relatives up to five years to decide whether they want to challenge the validity of a will. Typical allegations are that the deceased was either mentally incapacitated or subject to undue influence in making the document.
Despite an earlier defeat in court, Tom Benson's estranged former heirs could still challenge his will and try to gain control of the Saints, …
It remains unclear whether Renee, Rita and Ryan are considering pursuing that kind of case, which can be difficult to win, according to legal experts. Their attorney, Randy Smith, hasn't commented on their intentions.
The attorney who helped Benson prepare his will, Paul Cordes Jr., said Monday he is confident the document would survive a challenge.
He noted the document was created just a few weeks after a New Orleans judge found Benson was mentally fit enough to handle his own affairs, which Renee and her children had denied in a lawsuit filed in early 2015.
"We don't know anyone's plans," Cordes said. "But if anything were to occur, we expect to prevail."
A number of other questions also remain publicly unanswered as Gayle Benson settles into her new reality of owning the Saints, Pelicans and other famous New Orleans businesses.
One of the big questions is the status of lucrative but non-voting shares in the Saints and Pelicans that Benson sought to reclaim from trust funds set up for his daughter and grandchildren.
Benson was required to replace the shares with assets of equivalent value. He argued that he had done so by cancelling millions of dollars' worth of debt owed by the trusts and turning over $500 million in promissory notes due in about 25 years. The officials overseeing the trusts disagreed.
The case was settled last year under confidential terms. Given the value of the two franchises, it is unclear whether he was able to assemble other assets of comparable value to reclaim all of the shares.
Though Gayle is the sole beneficiary of her late husband's estate — Saints and Pelicans President Dennis Lauscha is its administrator — all of Benson's property went into a trust whose governing terms haven't been made public.
The trust's rules could address the line of succession in case of the death of Gayle Benson, 71, who has no children. But such rules are only required to be publicly released under very specific circumstances, such as if the trust itself came to own land, veteran estate lawyer Max Nathan said Monday.
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Generally, trusts are set up by people who want to leave their descendants with money generated by their holdings while tasking someone else with managing the various interests, Nathan said. It is possible for someone to be both the beneficiary and manager of a trust, though it is hard to determine whether that was done in this case without access to the rules.
The divvying up of Benson's wealth became a matter of public interest when the twice-widowed billionaire announced in early 2015 that he intended to leave control of his business empire to Gayle rather than his daughter or grandchildren, as previously planned.
He fired the three jilted heirs from their jobs at his companies and banned them from any further contact with him.
One of their responses was the suit alleging Benson had been unduly manipulated into making that decision while in a weakened mental state. They lost the case.
Aside from the dispute over the non-controlling Saints and Pelicans shares, another related court battle resulted in a settlement requiring Benson to surrender control of the San Antonio car dealerships, bank branches, ranch and other properties to his daughter and her children.
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