Appellate court divided over trust liability

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.