Donald Sterling has emerged from probate court, heralding not only the impending sale of the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball franchise but also bringing some harsh tax and estate planning lessons for advisers.
This heated court battle was, in essence, a probate question as to whether Shelly Sterling acted properly in removing her husband as co-trustee of the family trust that owns the Clippers. Shelly assumed control of the trust when doctors allegedly found Donald Sterling to be suffering from early stages of Alzheimer's disease, according to an Associated Press report.
In the ruling, the judge said the doctors who diagnosed Donald's mental incapacity acted appropriately, dismissing the billionaire's claim that this was part of a conspiracy by Shelly and her attorney to gain control of the professional basketball team.
This was the subject of a recent Investment News article titled "Donald Sterling's battle holds a harsh lesson for advisers." The article noted that "[I]t's not every day that financial advisers and accountants are called in to referee billion-dollar disputes over the ownership of a basketball team…" Nonetheless, the article points to several valuable lessons from the jump ball in probate court.
While many create estate plans to guard assets in the event of their death, seldom do people contemplate the consequences and plan for incapacity. The article counsels you to add an incapacity clause in your trust documents, and to ensure there is a true measured trigger that will set it in motion. Your estate planning attorney will know how to draft that language so that it is a clear and precise standard to determine whether you are unfit to oversee the trust. This language will also describe the terms for a transfer of power.
Contact your estate planning attorney and take care of this issue now, before it turns into a bigger problem down the road, like it has for the Sterlings.
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Reference: Investment News (July 30, 2014) "Donald Sterling's battle holds a harsh lesson for advisers