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New Orleans Saints Owner in Middle of Estate Battle

The San Antonio Express-News reported in “Billionaire Benson ordered to give deposition in estate fight,” that Judge Rickhoff said that if the two sides—Benson versus his daughter Renee Benson and her two children—can’t agree on the date and place for the deposition, the judge will handle the details as he sees fit.

The deposition will be conducted privately without the public and the media, and the deadline is fewer than two weeks before the start of a scheduled jury trial over control of a trust created in 1980 after the death of Tom Benson’s first wife, Shirley Benson.

The trust assets include nearly all of San Antonio-based Lone Star Capital Bank, 50% of five auto dealerships, a portion of a large Texas ranch, a private plane, real estate, and cash.

The deposition request was made by Renee Benson and has been at the center of a sharp disagreement for more than a month. Tom Benson’s lawyers filed a brief last month opposing any deposition, claiming there was nothing left to discover in the case since Renee has owned all the Shirley Benson Testamentary Trust documents for more than 10 years.

Tom Benson’s lawyers say that the request amounted to “harassment.”

Renee Benson’s lawyer, Bennett Stahl, stated that the only way the court will receive Benson’s testimony is through a deposition since the 88-year-old billionaire isn’t expected to testify at the trial. Tom Benson’s lawyers say that if he has to give a deposition, it should be in New Orleans.

Stahl added that he was happy with the order. “A deposition allows me, as Renee Benson’s attorney, the opportunity to ask important questions directly to her father and hear the answers in his own words,” he said.

What happens to the deposition if a settlement occurs? A jury trial would be avoided and the deposition would be part of the settlement. But sources say that a possible settlement is not imminent.

The purpose of the litigation is to establish a new trustee for the Shirley Benson trust. Judge Rickhoff recently appointed former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger and estate planning lawyer Art Bayern as temporary co-receivers of the trust, removing Tom Benson as trustee. Renee Benson wants to become the trustee.

About a year ago, the twice-widowed Tom Benson said he was changing his succession plan to cut out his only surviving child, Renee and her children, in favor of his third wife. That news triggered several lawsuits challenging the elder Benson’s mental capacity to make estate decisions. Renee has alleged in lawsuit briefs that Tom Benson is being brainwashed and manipulated by his current wife and business associates. A judge in New Orleans ruled last June that Tom was competent.

Reference: San Antonio Express-News (January 13, 2016) “Billionaire Benson ordered to give deposition in estate fight”

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