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Alert trustee probes footballer's distribution of assets

Football fans in the Winter Haven and Lakeland area may recognize the name Charlie Sanders. He played for the Detroit Lions until 1977, and his stellar professional career earned him a spot in the National Football League's prestigious Hall of Fame. But even for people who know nothing about Sanders, a recent story involving his estate has brought up some interesting issues involving the distribution of assets and trust administration.

Sanders died this past July after suffering from cancer. Thanks to his productive career in the NFL, both as a player and later as a coach and team staff member, Sanders left his family members with some substantial assets.

Back in 2008, Sanders set up a revocable trust, which he named as the sole beneficiary of his NFL pension benefits and of a life insurance policy. At the time of his death, the pension amounted to $1.1 million, and the life insurance policy was $321,000. After Sanders's death, the trustee of his revocable trust requested that the NFL pay the pension money to the trust. However, the NFL notified the trustee that it was only entitled to about 57 percent of the pension money, because the remainder was due to Sanders's surviving wife.

Although Sanders was not married at the time he formed his revocable trust, court records showed that his ex-wife, and mother of his eight children, re-married Sanders just six days before he died. Accordingly, she was the beneficiary of a sizeable chunk of his pension and the insurance policy.

The trustee for Sanders's trust was immediately suspicious of the marriage, and now the trust, the NFL and the insurance company have filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of the marriage. The trustee, along with the other plaintiffs, argues that Sanders was incapable of consenting to a legally binding marital contract at the time that the marriage supposedly occurred.

Although this situation involves a former pro football star, it is the kind of thing that can happen to anyone who has assets that they wish to leave to others upon their death. The news story is also a reminder about the importance of setting up a thorough estate plan. Likewise, it is essential to employ detail-oriented and alert people to set up and administer the trusts and other legal instruments that make up that plan.

Source: Detroit Free Press, "Widow of NFL icon Charlie Sanders sacked with lawsuit," Tresa Baldas, Nov. 12, 2015

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