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Appellate court divided over trust liability

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The Indiana Court of Appeals split Monday in a probate suit involving whether trustees failed to distribute a portion of the trust corpus in a timely manner. The majority upheld finding the trustees liable, but ordered a re-evaluation of compensatory damages and attorney fees.

Brothers Harrison “Nick” Eiteljorg II and Jack Eiteljorg were the remainder beneficiaries of a trust their father set up effective upon his death in 1997. Their mother, Sonja, was designated sole beneficiary; she died in 2003. Nick, his stepson Roger, and accountant John Lienhart were co-trustees of the trust.

In October 2004, the parties met to discuss the distribution of trust property, which consisted of $6.5 million, including $3.2 million in liquid assets. Nick wanted he and his brother to receive $2 million total, but Lienhart disagreed because he was worried about any remaining estate tax that may be owed. Roger and Lienhart suggested distributing only $1 million total, which Nick rejected and later stormed out. The dispute led to a petition to probate court to remove Lienhart and Roger as trustees. Nick and Jack filed notice raising 13 claims of breach of trust, but Judge Charles Dieter only found they breached two duties and ordered immediate distribution of $1.5 million, which included about $300,000 in non-liquid assets, to Nick and Jack.

Judge Dieter died before he could rule on the issue of damages, so Judge Tanya Walton Pratt concluded that the relevant damages period lasted from October 2004 to October 2007 when the trust was wrapped up. She awarded Nick more than $150,000 representing lost earnings from an investment opportunity and awarded Jack more than $110,000 in lost profits from his missed real estate deal. She also awarded them more than $353,000 in attorney fees.

In In the Matter of the Trust of Harrison Eiteljorg, No. 49A02-1005-TR-485, Judges Nancy Vaidik and Michael Barnes upheld Judge Dieter’s finding that John and Roger breached their duty to administer the trust according to its terms, but they found Judge Pratt erred in her assessment of damages. They should not have been allowed to recover damages for their lost investment opportunities under Indiana Code 30-4-3-11(b)(3) because that section applies to profits lost to the trust corpus due to a trustee’s misuse, not to allow beneficiaries to recover for individual profits they would have allegedly generated on their personal shares but for the trustee’s failure to timely distribute, wrote Judge Vaidik. The issue here is more like a claim for conversion.

Nick and Jack were deprived of the $1.2 million ordered by Judge Deiter for only 9 months, so they are only entitled to interest for those months. Any assessment of compensatory damages beyond that point is erroneous, she wrote. The majority also reduced the attorney fees to $150,000 based on the record.

Judge John Baker dissented on the issue of whether Lienhart and Roger committed a breach of the trust. He noted that Nick originally rejected Lienhart and Roger’s distribution proposal. Lienhart had many years of experience as an accountant and believed that the $2 million he wanted to hold back for taxes was appropriate. When the dispute arose, Lienhart and Roger petitioned for instructions from the probate court, and once instructed, they immediately made the distributions as ordered.  

“In my view, to penalize John and Roger for doing that which we consistently direct trustees to do — and which they are statutorily entitled to do — is misguided and contrary to law,” he wrote.

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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