Minnesota basketball fans, and particularly those who follow this blog regularly, are probably aware of the ongoing court battle over the sale of a major professional basketball team in another state. The sale not only has attracted national attention because parts of the story have racial overtones but also has raised several interesting issues about probate law.
The probate case centers around Donald Sterling, the disgraced owner of the basketball team who was forced out of the NBA because of some private remarks he made that suggested he was a bigot. Initially, he apparently agreed to allow his wife to sell his team, but he later changed his mind and went to court.
Both Sterling and his estranged wife were trustees of a family trust that technically owned the basketball team. Sterling allegedly agreed to the sale, but then changed his mind. His wife then had him removed as trustee, leaving her in charge of making decisions on behalf of the trust. She managed to remove him by presenting evidence that he was not mentally fit to make good financial decisions on behalf of the trust.
Sterling then canceled the trust and is now contending that his wife’s actions in selling the team for $2 billion were unreasonable and invalid. The court disagreed with Sterling, holding instead that his wife made a reasonable decision to sell the team and acted within her authority. Sterling has been trying to appeal his ruling, but a procedural hiccup has put the brakes on his plan for the time being. Whether and for how long he will continue to fight the sale of his former team remains unclear.
In any event, the Sterling case illustrates that probate litigation can emerge in the context of disputes over the terms and conditions of trusts, particularly when a trust fund includes significant assets. Should a Minnesota resident be facing trust litigation, it may be best to enlist the experience and wisdom of a seasoned probate litigation attorney.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter, “Donald Sterling’s petition to stay Clippers sale ruling denied by appellate court,” Austin Siegemund-Broka, Aug. 8, 2014