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Litigation attacks on media mogul's estate planning decisions

Some Tennessee readers have followed the salacious and sometimes bizarre litigation that has surrounded media mogul Sumner Redstone in recent years. Redstone is currently 93 years old and is worth an estimated $5 billion. As his physical and mental health declines, legal attacks on his estate planning choices have escalated. That has opened up Redstone's private and financial matters to the public, and it has sparked debate on the issue of estate planning fraud by caregivers and family members.

Redstone created a trust that acts as owner of 80 percent of his company, National Amusements. That company owns 80 percent of the voting stock for both Viacom and CBS, two of the world's biggest media companies. The remaining 20 percent of National Amusements is owned by Redstone's adult daughter, from whom he was previously estranged. A primary trustee was the chief executive of Viacom, who was also a long time friend and confidant of Redstone's.

In a recent move, Redstone removed that trustee and replaced him with several family members. That has led to a lawsuit asserting that Redstone's daughter has taken advantage of her father's ailing health to try and make a grab for more of his vast fortune. The former trustee is alleging that Redstone lacks the mental capacity to make changes to the trust. Many others surrounding the media mogul have joined in the case, placing their support on one side or the other.

While most Tennessee residents will not have to protect a fortune nearly as large as that of Sumner Redstone, the issue of fraud against the elderly is a matter that can impact many families. It is not uncommon for an older person to make changes in their estate planning to provide for a caregiver or relatively new companion, to the exclusion of family members. While some of these decisions are made with the full mental capacity of the elderly party and are in line with his or her true intentions, there are many other cases in which undue pressure or outright fraud is a factor.

Source: The New York Times, "In Sumner Redstone Affair, His Decline Upends Estate Planning", James B. Stewart, June 2, 2016

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