(Reuters) - New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson must be evaluated by a panel of three doctors who will decide whether the 87-year-old billionaire is capable of running his business empire, a New Orleans judge ruled Tuesday.
The order comes as part of a lawsuit against Benson, who also owns the National Basketball Association’s New Orleans Pelicans, from his daughter and two grandchildren, who were removed as heirs in December and are now challenging Benson’s mental competency.
Benson, who built his fortune through auto dealerships and banks, said he decided to alter his succession plan for the pro sports franchises to place his third wife, Gayle Benson, in control.
Under Tuesday’s ruling by Orleans Parish Civil Judge Kern Reese, the doctors determining Benson’s competency are to be selected by Feb. 25, and complete their assessment by March 13.
Benson, who has owned the National Football League’s Saints since 1985 and the Pelicans since 2012, said poor treatment of his current wife contributed to the removal of his grandchildren from the estate plan.
Relatives, including daughter Renee LeBlanc, granddaughter Rita and grandson Ryan, want to have Benson ruled mentally unfit to oversee his fortune and the two sports franchises.
Benson said Tuesday he was “extremely disappointed” in the lawsuits filed in Texas and Louisiana by his family “but it has only strengthened my resolve to defend what I have built over the last fifty plus years.”
“The decisions I have made are well within my rights to make at any point in my life, and rest assured that I am making sound decisions,” he said in a statement.
Benson’s lawyers termed the examination a “fishing expedition” and a “shotgun search” that heirs were hoping would turn up something they can use to take control of the teams.
“He’s made a reasoned decision to exclude his daughter and his granddaughter from his life,” Benson lawyer Phil Wittmann told reporters outside the courthouse.
“He conveyed it to them clearly and consistently and has told that to everyone who has talked to him since December 27.”
A Texas judge on Monday appointed two receivers to help Benson manage a family trust, citing recent decisions that Renee Benson said were diminishing the value of her inheritance.
When asked just before the Feb. 1 Super Bowl, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he was confident of Benson’s stewardship of the Saints, adding that the owner has “complete control over what he’s doing.”
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Walsh