When disputes over trusts arise, they can leave those involved with a mix of stressful emotions and decisions to make. Family dynamics can also be difficult to manage, and with the combination of emotions, as well as money and estate protection, it’s important to have solid legal advice when navigating such disputes. It’s often easy to look towards high profile trust disputes as illustrations of how these types of situations can change over time.

The Pat Bowlen Trust

Pat Bowlen was the billionaire owner of the Denver Broncos NFL team until his death in June 2019. Although born in America, his family came from Alberta and he played football in Canada before becoming a lawyer in Edmonton. When he died last summer, he left an estate which included a trust that would be responsible for passing on controlling ownership of the Broncos, valued at $2.5 billion.

Two of Bowlen’s daughters have reportedly put themselves at risk of being cut out of the trust after challenging it. The daughters, Beth Wallace and Amie Klemmer, filed a lawsuit in September alleging the trust was not valid on the grounds that Bowlen lacked the mental capacity to sign it and was under undue influence when it was executed in 2009.

Bowlen, who died at age 75 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s, had reportedly established the trust in order to ensure one of his seven children would be able to take controlling ownership of the football team, which he purchased in 1984. The daughters who have challenged the trust were from Bowlen’s first marriage. He had five other children with his second wife, to whom he was still married when he died.

The Trust Controls the Team

Bowlen’s trust was set up over 20 years ago. When Bowlen stepped down from active duty with the Broncos in 2014, the trustees took over those responsibilities. Sometime after that, Beth Wallace was reportedly told by the trustees that she was not capable or qualified to serve as the controlling owner.

Lawyers for the daughters challenging the trust wrote, ”There is substantial and overwhelming evidence that Mr. Bowlen lacked the required capacity in 2009,” adding “As a result, Ms. Klemmer and Ms. Wallace have filed a petition asking the court to decide that issue, the related issue of whether the 2009 trust – which is the document under which the trustees have derived their power and authority – is valid, and whether Mr. Bowlen was subjected to undue influence.”

The Trustees Respond

The trustees have responded to the lawsuit, stating ”The evidence in the courtroom will show Pat Bowlen was fully capable of establishing and understanding his trust and estate plan when it was created in 2009.” The trustees have also asked the NFL to arbitrate the matter, with the league agreeing. However, it’s worth noting that the arbitrator’s decision would be nullified if the courts determine the trust to be invalid.

The matter has a good chance of taking a long time, and a lot of money to settle. We will be sure to report back when it is eventually resolved.

The estate lawyers at Eisen Law, take pride in our compassionate approach to trust disputes. We understand the emotions and complexity that come with trust disputes and have years of experience guiding clients through these difficult times. Please call us at 416-591-9997 or reach us online to set up a consultation today.



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