When the owner of the Buffalo Bills passed away fans immediately wanted to know what provisions he made for his beloved NFL franchise. However, because of the way in which the estate plan was structured fans and the media are not able to find out what they want to know.
The founder of the Buffalo Bills, Ralph Wilson, Jr., passed away a few months ago. Unfortunately, he never made a public statement about what would happen to the team after his death. Fans hoped they could learn from Wilson’s will whether he directed that the team be sold to someone who would promise to keep the team in Buffalo. However, as the Buffalo Newsreports in a recent article titled “Ralph Wilson’s will leaves no clue about sale of Bills,” Wilson used estate planning tools to keep the details of his estate private.
Wilson’s will is a pour-over will. It leaves all of his property to a previously created Michigan trust. Under Michigan law, the details of the trust are not public. This leaves fans unable to determine if there are any stipulations concerning the sale of the Bills. The key might be whether the trust is a charitable trust. If it is a charitable trust, then by law, the team would have to go to the highest bidder. If it is not a charitable trust, then other considerations could color the decision regarding which bid the trust will ultimately accept. In Michigan, charitable trusts must register with the state and Wilson’s trust has not done so. However, that does not mean it will not register at a later date.
Many people want to keep the details of their estates private, just as Wilson did. Trusts are a great way to do that, even if it leaves fans of your professional football team in the dark as to its future.
Reference: Buffalo News (July 31, 2014) “Ralph Wilson’s will leaves no clue about sale of Bills”