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Appeals panel reinstates claims of capacity, undue influence in trust dispute

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A family feud involving half-siblings contesting the trust bequeathed by their mother was improperly disposed of through summary judgment, a panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

The panel reversed and remanded the case, In the Matter of the Trust of Dorothy Rhoades; Robert Kutchinski and Shelia Graves, f/k/a Shelia Kutchinski v. Joseph Strazzante and Monty Strazzante, Co-Trustees, 45A03-1206-TR-296. The panel held there were issues of material fact regarding Rhoades’ capacity and whether she had been unduly influenced.

Dorothy Rhoades had been in declining health, and 11 days before she died, she amended her power of attorney and made other changes affecting her will and trust. At the direction of son Joseph Strazzante, she named him sole attorney-in-fact and excluded as a beneficiary another son, Robert Kutchinski, who had been co-attorney-in-fact. She also excluded daughter Sheila Graves.  

Joseph and Monty Strazzante won summary judgment from Lake Superior Judge Geroge Paras, who ruled that there were no issues of material fact as to the mother’s capacity or undue influence. The appellate panel disagreed, noting she was heavily medicated and relied on a caretaker when she signed off on the changes. The caretaker testified her medication “resulted in her inability to fully comprehend what was fully happening to her.”

“We conclude that there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Dorothy was of sound mind at the time she executed the amendments at issue,” Judge Rudy Pyle III wrote for the panel. “Accordingly, we conclude that the issue of testamentary capacity is a question of fact for a jury to determine and that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment on this issue.”

That determination undercut the defense argument that there was no issue of undue influence. “Because we have determined that there is an issue of material fact regarding testamentary capacity, we conclude that summary judgment was also not appropriate on the issue of undue influence,” Pyle wrote.




 

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  1. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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