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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Legal dispute over media mogul's legacy may be over

Previous posts here have discussed the legal dispute over the future of Viacom, a major media conglomerate and parent company of studios and channels that produce entertainment that would likely be familiar to many residents of Saint Paul, Minnesota.

The dispute centered around whether the wealthy executive in charge of the business, Sumner Redstone, was competent to handle his own affairs. He and his daughter, who had been estranged, restored their relationship, and the business had begun to transfer control of his empire and personal affairs to her, a move that caused many to worry and which led to multiple lawsuits being filed.

At the end of the day, however, Mr. Redstone and his daughter seemed to be able to convince those that matter that Mr. Redstone was indeed capable of making his own decisions and, despite prior indications to the contrary, wanted his daughter to assume control of his business. The Redstone family entered a deal with Viacom in which the company's chief executive left his post. Additionally, five new board members, seemingly trusted by Ms. Redstone, will take on the oversight of the company.

The now former chief executive officer had filed a lawsuit claiming that Mr. Redstone was not competent to make the decision to remove him from his position. A separate lawsuit challenging Mr. Redstone's competency was filed last year by a former friend, whom Mr. Redstone had removed from his mansion and cut from his will. That lawsuit was dismissed after Mr. Redstone was able to testify as to his own mental abilities in court.

While it remains to be seen whether this really is the end of this litigation over a person's ability to make changes to his will and business plan, it still serves as an important lesson to Minnesota families about how important disputes over a person's competency can be. Such disputes are often much more than a matter of arguing about "stuff" and can in fact impact the future of a family business for a long time.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Viacom power struggle ends with Shari Redstone ushering in a new era for the media company," Meg James, Aug. 19, 2016.

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