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Bettencourt and Benson: parallels between two family business court battles

Not one but two family business dynasties are in court this week, in generational battles questioning the decision-making ability of aging family members.

In the US, Tom Benson, the billionaire owner of pro-American football team the New Orleans Saints, will be in court over the future control of his sports and business empire.

And starting today in Southern France, 10 people will be answering to allegations that they capitalised on the mental frailty of L’Oreal heiress, Liliane Bettencourt.

The locations and business interests are very different but the similarities in the two cases are incredible.

The heirs apparent of Tom Benson (daughter Renee Benson, as well as grandchildren Rita Neeson LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc) are questioning his metal capacity and are looking to take control of his business. Benson is reportedly worth $2 billion and, as well as the Saints, owns the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, as well as a banking, media, real estate and auto dealership empire.

Benson instructed a trustee to transfer control of his empire to this wife Gayle, in the event of his death.

Benson’s adopted daughter and grandchildren, who had previously been heirs to the empire, filed a lawsuit claiming that he was not of sound mind and, therefore, should not be allowed to transfer ownership. The family members argue Benson has “fallen under the undue influence” of his wife Gayle.

The 27-page lawsuit describes numerous examples of "bizarre and uncharacteristic behaviour" by Benson, including an email that was sent from Benson to his family members on December 27, announcing that he never wanted to see Renee, Rita or Ryan again.

He also told them in intended to ban them from Saints’ and Pelicans’ facilities and games, as well as other New Orleans businesses. Soon after that, Benson terminated granddaughter Rita Benson LeBlanc's position as owner and vice chairman of the board.

On the otherside of the Atlantic in Bordeaux, mental fraility is also at the centre of the case involving the Bettencourt family in France.

Bettencourt, 92, is Europe’s wealthiest women and is reportedly worth $38 billion.

The 10 people facing charges include Eric Woerth, France’s former minister of Labour, and Patrice de Maistre, who managed the Bettencourt’s fortune. He is recorded on tape encouraging her to commit tax evasion.

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