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Appeals court partially reverses denial of familial sale from trust

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A trustee who canceled the sale of Johnson County farmland from mother to son was within her rights to do so, but the 91-year-old mother was capable of executing the agreement, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

The court affirmed that Nancy Gilliland individually and as successor trustee of the Ruth E. Fulp Revocable Trust did not tortiously interfere with a contract that Harold Fulp had signed to purchase farmland his mother owns in a trust. He farmed the land near Franklin on a rental basis.

But the appeals court reversed the trial court by holding that Ruth Fulp at 91 could properly execute a purchase agreement, and the family dynamic was a factor in her agreeing to sell the property below market value.

Harold Fulp had presented various purchase scenarios for the land and suggested he pay $2,200 per acre, the same price his mother had allowed a daughter to pay years earlier.

Mother and son agreed on a total purchase price of $450,252, but before the deal could be closed, Gilliland canceled the transaction. The trial court found for Gilliland and ruled that Ruth was not mentally competent.

“Absent a finding of undue influence or mental incapacity — which Gilliland does not allege, nor did the trial court find any — Ruth entered into a valid agreement and Harold is entitled to specific performance of the Purchase Offer Agreement,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote in a unanimous opinion.

On the other hand, the court also upheld Gilliland’s voiding the deal in her role as trustee.

“Being confronted with a purchase offer agreement that depleted the trust corpus and sold the farm below fair market value, Gilliland, as successor trustee, had a legitimate and reasonable reason to repudiate the agreement. Therefore, we conclude that she did not tortiously interfere in the contractual relationship between Ruth and Harold,” Riley wrote.


 

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