Les Moonves was fired last week as CEO of CBS in a major scandal that’s still burning through the media.
The CBS board will meet soon to meet to pick a successor; what should be a boring, quite normal, corporate activity threatens to become another scandal – actually, the resumption of a scandalous situation.
CBS and media giant Viacom are intricately woven together in many ways and share some of the same directors. Viacom is controlled by the famous (or infamous, depending on one’s view) Redstone family.
Therein lies the scandal. It involves elder care planning and elder abuse and a dozen other issues we deal with on a daily basis.
Sumner Redstone is the patriarch of the Redstone family and a media legend. He is 96 and has been in failing health for several years. Two years ago, his representatives – or, rather, the representatives of the trust he put his considerable assets into many years ago – were in a California court trying to prove he was competent when he removed his live-in (and much, much younger) girlfriend as a beneficiary and evicted her from their home.
A year later, they were in another court trying to prove he was incompetent when he removed several lifelong friends from the board of Viacom and ceded control of the company to his long-estranged daughter.
That’s the rub – who’s calling the shots? The competent or incompetent Sumner, or someone else with something to gain? (CFEP note: that would be everyone around Sumner).
The financial and social media are in full agreement – it’s not the ninety-six-year-old. So, you may say, this is interesting in a sort of latter-day Falcon Crest episode might be, but what do the travails of a billionaire have to do with the rest of us?
Simple, this is happening everywhere, across all financial strata. Redstone has dementia, the people around him compete for control, and everyone has their own objectives.
People with competing interests try to influence decisions related to his estate, the trust, and Viacom. The real question, of course, should be: ‘what does Mr. Redstone himself want?’
Most likely, he no longer knows what he wants, but that is not stopping anyone.
The crux is people live longer, which makes dementia in all its forms more prevalent. We help clients prepare for that possibility now, as should all estate planners. Our clients have to plan for cognitive problems late in a long life, like they have to plan for death.
Redstone’s estate planning was done when he was in his sixties, three decades ago, before anyone had the kind of awareness about dementia we have now. His plans never fully considered the possibility of dementia. It was probably unthinkable to anyone in the room when he was signing the documents that he would ever be unable to act and act decisively.
In the real world, the one you and I live in, it’s not about companies and mergers and Wall Street; it's about money, houses, assets, and family heirlooms.
In the long run, the Redstone matter is unique, unfortunately, only in its high visibility.
We can help; good planning, which anticipates events, illnesses, and much more, can and will eliminate the late life drama.
Take away the billions, and this could still happen to anyone. It can also be stopped.