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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. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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