Wednesday, 9 July 2014
Sterling trial spotlights major issue for Baby Boomers
LOS ANGELES — Beyond the high-powered lawyers and public fight over the $2 billion sale of an NBA team, Donald and Shelly Sterling are caught in a struggle that often unfolds when someone reaches an advanced age and difficult questions arise.
Is it safe for him to drive? Does he need a caregiver?
Or, in the case of 80-year-old Donald Sterling, does he have the mental capacity to serve as a co-trustee of the Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Los Angeles Clippers?
TRIAL: Donald no-shows, expected Tuesday
COMPETENCE: Why it's no longer trial issue
Donald Sterling's attorneys acknowledge he has mild cognitive decline but say he is competent. His estranged wife points to the evaluations of two doctors who examined Donald Sterling. They concluded he has symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and lacks the mental capacity to serve as a trustee.
Donald Sterling is fighting his wife's decision to remove him as co-trustee, a step that subsequently allowed her to act alone in agreeing to sell the Clippers to ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. A trial in Los Angeles Superior Court began Monday. Donald Sterling is expected to testify Tuesday.
Meanwhile, legal and health experts interviewed by USA TODAY Sports say such battles — though typically handled without going to court — are growing more common and contentious for several reasons:
The first Baby Boomers, which comprise a quarter of the U.S. population, are approaching the age of 70. That increases the likelihood they will experience age-related dementia, a brain disorder characterized by problems with memory, attention, decision making and judgment. Americans also are living longer — an average of 79.8 years, according to 2013 data released by the World Health Organization — which will increase incidence of dementia.
Of the approximately 5 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, many in the early stages of the disease can function well. Because of the wide spectrum between mild and major impairment, determining what they're capable of can be tricky, said Beth Kallmeyer, vice president of constituent services for the Alzheimer's Association.
"The brain is complicated," she said. "It's a situation where somebody might be able to do something one day, and the next day they might struggle with it, and then they can do it again."
Courts remain hesitant to strip people of their rights even in the face of cognitive decline.
"The law favors the rights of the individual," said Patricia Hunter, a California psychologist who assesses people for mental capacity. "We want to err on the side of respecting a person's ability to make decisions regarding his or her assets that he or she has spent many years earning.