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Julie Garber

Death, Estates Taxes, and the Buffalo Bills

By November 9, 2011

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With Buffalo Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. turning 93 last month, the stadium bearing his name crumbling and the team's current stadium lease set to expire in July 2013, the team is reviewing its options in order to extend the lease and keep the team in western New York and yet get Erie County and the state to foot the bill for some much needed upgrades to the stadium. One of the major obstacles that must be overcome is the fact that the 93-year-old Wilson may not survive the term of the new lease, which would potentially lead to the sale of the team in order to pay the federal estate tax bill. If the sale is made to someone who wants to move the team to a new market, then Erie County and the state would be out of the millions of dollars that are expected to be needed to bring the stadium into the new millennium.

Forbes has estimated that the Bills are currently worth $792 million (which means that the team is ranked 29th out of 32 teams). Mr. Wilson has declined to comment on the provisions of his estate plan, but it is speculated that the team would be put into a qtip marital trust for the benefit of his wife, Mary, which will defer payment of estate taxes until after her death. In the meantime, the team could be shopped around for the right buyer and to protect the county and state the new lease could contain a provision that would require repayment of the amount invested in the stadium upgrades if the team were to be moved to a new market. And aside from leaving the team to a qtip marital trust, another way that Mr. Wilson will undoubtedly reduce his estate tax bill is by making gifts to charity. In fact, he already has a charitable foundation aptly named the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation, and back in September he and his wife donated $1 million to the University at Buffalo.

With all of that said, I think it's safe to say that just like the Bills, which currently have a team of players in place that have given them a winning record for the first time since 2004, Mr. Wilson has a team of attorneys, accountants and financial advisors at his disposal dedicated to helping him win the estate tax game.

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