By Sara B. Andrew
, Andrew Law Offices S.C., Fond du Lac
Aug. 3, 2011 – In my estate planning practice, many clients have had Green Bay Packers season tickets, and for the most part, dealing with their tickets has been easy. The Packers organization has a very clear-cut policy for passing along season tickets at death, and the ticket office at Lambeau Field has a transfer form that is easy to complete. As attorneys, we are taught to think of worst-case scenarios, and to plan for the worst. If a Green Bay Packers season-ticket holder dies without completing a transfer form, the worst-case scenario for the estate would be that the beneficiaries cannot agree how to take ownership of the tickets, and the tickets revert back to the Packers to be sold to one of the 87,000 people on its waiting list.
In a typical simple estate plan, the decedent’s assets usually pass to the spouse. If there is no spouse or if the spouse dies before the decedent, then the assets go to the decedent’s children in equal shares. If the children are equal beneficiaries, there could be issues transferring Packers tickets. The Green Bay Packers policy requires that the owner of a season ticket be either an individual or a business. If a ticket owner has five children, and each child wants to own the season tickets, they might not agree on one owner. Even bigger problems could arise if the family situation is more complicated or if the tickets are a part of a more complicated business situation.
The Packers transfer policy
The official policy on transfer of Packers season tickets with regard to transfers at death is as follows:
“Upon death of ticket holder
To surviving spouse; or if no spouse, the surviving children of a deceased ticket holder without authorization. (If children do not agree – no transfer.) [Emphasis added.]
If direction by deceased under will or specific writing to family devisees defined [as spouse and “blood” relatives who are not more than first cousins] but not to devisees who are not [spouses or “blood” relatives], even with direction.”1
Mark Wagner, Green Bay Packers director of ticket operations, and Jerry Hanson, Green Bay Packers staff counsel, state that most disputes concerning transfer of Packers season tickets are within families. Similar to the situation outlined above, many disputes occur because the estate plan either does not address the Packers season tickets or does not deal with them according to the Packers policy guidelines and siblings argue over ownership. Usually, when a dispute is among natural siblings, the issue gets resolved, but when a family situation gets more complicated, then the transfer gets more complicated.
For example, the transfer could get more complicated if Husband, a season-ticket holder who is a widower with two children, marries Second Wife, who also has two children. If Husband does not complete a transfer form and the tickets are not specifically bequeathed in his will (or if he does not have a will), upon his death the tickets will go to Second Wife. When Second Wife dies, the tickets will go to her children, or even more traumatic for Husband’s children, the tickets could go to Second Wife’s new husband, if she remarried. Even if Second Wife wants to leave the tickets upon her death to Husband’s children, she cannot, because they are not blood relatives. If Husband’s intention is for his children to inherit his season tickets, then he must complete a transfer form before his death or have the tickets pass by specific bequest to his children in a will or trust.
Other disputes typically arise when a ticket owner’s estate plan contains complicated provisions for transferring the tickets. Less than a year ago, a Green Bay family settled a lawsuit regarding Packers tickets and proceeds received from the sale of those tickets.2 At the time of his death, Walter Christman owned 13 prime-location season tickets.3 Ten of the tickets were on the 50-yard line, and the other three were on the 15-yard line. In a trust Walter set up during his lifetime, the three tickets on the 15-yard line were to go to his son Peter and the 10 tickets on the 50-yard line were to go to his son Michael and Michael’s children. These transfers happened upon Walter’s death. The trust further stipulated that all proceeds for tickets sold to other people were to be split, with 55 percent going to Michael and 45 percent going to Peter. Peter sued Michael for not paying him the full amount he was entitled to under the trust.4 Most likely, Walter wanted to use his trust to split the benefits of the tickets equitably without devaluing the tickets, but in the end, his children ended up in court because one felt that he was treated unfairly.
Another common complication occurs when businesses own Packers season tickets, and the business splits up or one owner dies. Often, the tickets are not addressed in the withdrawal agreement, dissolution agreement, buy-sell agreement, or other document that specifies asset distribution. In Aaron v. Axel,5 Gordon Aaron withdrew from a Milwaukee law firm with Byron Axel and Lowell Goldmann. The parties agreed to and signed a withdrawal agreement that did not address the Packers season tickets owned by the law firm. Aaron ultimately sued Axel and Goldmann because Axel and Goldmann retained the tickets without Aaron’s permission.6 The withdrawal agreement should have addressed the Packers tickets or, if it was intended that Aaron own the Packers season tickets, a transfer form should have been completed.
“The purchase of a season ticket has been said to be in the nature of a lease.…”7 Packers season-ticket holders have a one-year contract, spelled out on the back of each ticket, and the Packers have the right to change or not renew a person’s tickets anytime after that year is over. The Packers are quite willing to work with families and businesses to transfer tickets. If a family or business cannot decide on its own how to divide the tickets, the Packers ticket office will help to work with the people in conflict. The Packers prefer that the conflict be solved outside of court, but sometimes a lawsuit will ensue. The Packers organization prefers to not become a party to ticket-transfer lawsuits, but it has been willing to take direction from the court about how to transfer tickets. In Aaron v. Axel, the Packers were joined as a defendant but did not actively participate in the lawsuit. The Packers stipulated to the plaintiff that the Packers would follow the court’s direction in transferring tickets as long as no claims for relief would be made against the Packers.8
Tips to transfer Packers tickets
Review the Packers official policy. When contemplating how to transfer Green Bay Packers season tickets, review the organization’s official policy on transfer of season tickets.9 Determine whether your client’s wishes fit within this policy.
Fill out a transfer form. Assuming your client’s wishes fit within the policy, fill out a season-ticket transfer form. Be sure the current season-ticket holder signs the form in the presence of a notary.
Store the transfer form with the will. Keep the transfer form with other estate planning documents. I usually advise my clients to store their original will in a safe deposit box, and I would advise them to do the same with the transfer form.
Refer in the will to the transfer of tickets – keep it simple. Alternatively (or additionally), you could address the transfer of the tickets in a client’s will or trust. By bequeathing the tickets as a specific bequest in a will or trust, the ticket owner could provide for alternative plans if the initial beneficiary predeceases the ticket owner. Keep this language simple so that it doesn’t cause turmoil between the beneficiaries down the road.
Plan for complicated family situations. If a family situation is complicated, consider transferring the tickets during the owner’s lifetime or draft an additional agreement to plainly state the owner’s intentions for the tickets.
Involve the Packers ticket office during probate. If you’re handling a probate matter involving Packers tickets and problems arise, involve the Packers ticket office. If the beneficiaries cannot reach an agreement, they could risk losing the tickets all together.
The simplest way to ensure the proper transfer of your client’s Green Bay Packers season tickets is to complete the season-ticket transfer form, verify that the transfer will satisfy the Packers official policy, and keep a copy of the season-ticket transfer form with your client’s estate planning documents. Many families and businesses have had their Packers season tickets for many decades. Planning for the transfer of this asset can be simple and inexpensive with the right direction and tools. Clients are impressed when your attention to detail includes the passing of their Packers tickets, and when you are aware of the sentimental value they hold.
About the author
Sara B. Andrew, Marquette 2006, operates Andrew Law Offices S.C., Fond du Lac.