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Detroit Lion Charlie Sanders’ $1.1M pension disputed

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

The fate of NFL Hall of Famer Charlie Sanders’ $1.1 million pension plan — and whether the former Detroit Lion’s remarriage to his ex-wife six days before his death is valid — will be decided by a federal court judge in Detroit.

Attorney Hans J. Massaquoi, representing the National Football League’s pension plan, filed complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court against Georgianna Sanders, whom Sanders remarried on June 26, and David Levine, the trustee for the Charles Sanders Revocable Trust.

Sanders, 68, died from cancer on July 2. In addition to his 10-year playing career, Sanders was an assistant coach for the Lions from 1989 to 1996 and was in the scouting department since 1998.

Massaquoi says in the complaint that both Georgianna Sanders and Levine have made “incompatible” claims to Sanders’ benefits, and he is asking the court to decide how they should be paid.

According to emails included in court filings, Levine attempted to claim the benefits for ihe Charles Sanders Revocable Trust on July 20 in a letter to Susan Bratten of Aon Financial Services.

Ten days later, Bratten informed Levine via email that Sanders remarriage meant the trust was no longer the beneficiary and Georgianna Sanders would be the sole beneficiary of the account.

Levin alleged in an email that “there is a significant question as to whether the marriage is valid” and the benefits should be paid to the a trust that Sanders designated when he was unmarried in 2010 and an amended trust from 2014.

On Sept. 11, attorney Abraham Singer, representing Levine, sent Bratten a letter stating even if “some type of marriage ceremony” took place prior to Sanders’ death, he was incapable of giving a valid and legally binding consent.

“Therefore this ‘marriage’ cannot be a legal basis for not paying the amount to the Trust at this time,” Singer wrote in an email dated Sept. 11.

Georgianna Sanders, who sought a lump sum death benefit under the plan on Aug. 24, was informed on Oct. 6 that Aon was suspending payments of Sanders’ death benefits from the plan while the plan administrator determines the correct party to pay. She was not immediately available for comment.

In the case filing, Massaquoi says that if Georgianna Sanders was married to Sanders at the time of his death, she is entitled to $548,152 under the pension plan and $256,320.26 under the defined benefit plan.

Massaquoi and Singer were not immediately available for comment.

Sanders, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, played for the Lions from 1968-77 — his only NFL team.

He played in 128 NFL games, starting 108, and made 336 catches for 4,817 yards and 31 TD.

JChambers@detroitnews.com