Some in Pennsylvania have been following the saga surrounding billionaire media mogul Sumner Redstone, which has been playing out for some time now. Redstone, now 93 years of age, is worth an estimated $5 billion and has a controlling interest in both CBS and Viacom. Redstone’s personal life has become tabloid fodder after several of his former partners released information concerning his sexual habits. However, Redstone is now embroiled in a battle over who will control his estate planning, a decision that will now be made by the courts, and which could result in an outcome that is far different from what Redstone intended.
At the heart of the matter is a debate over whether Redstone is capable of making his own decisions and of directing the course of both his medical care and his business interests. Redstone created a trust to control 80 percent of his company, known as National Amusements. National Amusements holds 80 percent of both CBS and Viacom. The other 20 percent of National Amusements is owned by Redstone’s adult daughter, who was previously estranged from her father. A primary trustee is the chief executive of Viacom, who is also a longtime personal confidant of Sumner Redstone’s.
The daughter and the trustee are now fighting over who should control Redstone’s interests, and whether the current trust structure is an accurate representation of his intentions. A great deal of money is at stake in the matter, and the legal fight is expected to continue for quite some time. As for Redstone, it appears that his physical and mental health is on a decline, and it is uncertain to what degree he is aware of the turmoil surrounding his estate, or what part he will play in sorting the matter out in a court of law.
While most Pennsylvania families will never have to deal with the high stakes litigation that surrounds this high-profile mogul, the issue of fraud within estate planning is a growing concern. As the American population continues to age, many older people are subjected to undue influence when it comes to planning their estate and determining who will receive their assets when they have passed on. Often, caregivers can convince their clients to leave significant sums to them, instead of to family members. This is an issue that all Pennsylvania families who have a loved one in the later stages of life should consider.
Source: The New York Times, “In Sumner Redstone Affair, His Decline Upends Estate Planning“, James B. Stewart, June 2, 2016