When Tom Benson died last year at the age of 90, he left behind a sprawling empire that included two professional New Orleans sports teams and a group of car dealerships.
Unfortunately for him, he spent some of the last years of his life squabbling with heirs over who would get what.
The legal battle was marked by claims Benson wasn’t mentally competent when he made sweeping changes to his estate plans. His daughter and two grandchildren alleged he was acting at the direction of his third wife, Gayle Benson, 72, whom he married in 2004. Tom Benson rejected the claims, and a Louisiana court agreed. When all was settled, his wife ended up with the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans and his daughter and two grandchildren got most of his other holdings. But it took a lot of time, a lot of lawyers – and presumably a lot of money.
This kind of drawn-out fight for control is a risk faced by a growing number of longer-living American billionaires. At least 15 of them died last year, leaving behind assets collectively worth about $60 billion, including all the complex trappings that come with immense wealth: wide-ranging business interests, properties, sports teams, yachts, planes – you name it.