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By: Scott Grossman on October 15th, 2016

Mental Incompetence Is Hard to Prove: Donald Sterling

In news that has dominated the headlines for many weeks, Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has been fighting the attempts of the NBA and his wife Shelly Sterling to force the sale of the team. Shelly Sterling is now trying to sell the team without needing her husband’s consent. To do so, she is seeking court approval to remove him as a co-trustee of their family trust alleging his mental incompetence. While Donald Sterling’s recent behavior may clearly have been inappropriate, mental incompetence is hard to prove. Attorney Scott Grossman recently discussed the legal challenges Shelly Sterling will likely face in her pursuit to sell the Clippers. Attorney Grossman highlighted the following reasons why a judge may refuse to allow the removal of Donald Sterling as co-trustee or overturn the revocation of the trust.

5 Reasons Mental Incompetence is Hard to Prove

  1. Shelly Sterling must prove specifically that her husband is substantially unable to manage his finances. She must also prove he was unable to resist fraud or undue influence.
  2. To show mental incompetence, Shelly Sterling must show her husband is repeatedly making mistakes someone in their right mind wouldn’t.
  3. Shelly Sterling argues she had two physicians declare Donald Sterling incompetent, as called for under the terms of the trust. The standard used to make this determination is outlined by the California Probate Code. However, the Code applies different standards for different types of transactions. The physicians utilized by Shelly Sterling may not have applied the correct standard when making their assessment.
  4. To date, Donald Sterling appears to be responsive and alert in the recordings that were used as evidence against him when attempting to force the sale of the Clippers. In addition, Shelly Sterling has not yet presented evidence that shows her husband exhibited any unusual or unreasonable behavior during his many business dealings.
  5. Generally speaking, proving mental incompetence is difficult for a man who holds a position of substantial authority. Donald Sterling is in charge of a big organization and has many real estate holdings that he manages. These factors do not typically indicate someone’s incompetence.


If you are ready to start your case, then please give us a call or fill out our Get Help Now form. A comprehensive overview of California Probate is available here. Should you have additional questions about trust litigation, you will find plenty of useful information in our Learning Center.