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Estate must be reimbursed for funeral expenses

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The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a trial court's approval of money received in a wrongful death suit of an Indianapolis attorney to be used to reimburse his estate for funeral and burial expenses. His widow, who paid for those expenses and received reimbursement from the estate, argued the wrongful death award wasn't itemized to include a portion for funeral expenses so the estate shouldn't be reimbursed.

In In the Matter of the Supervised Administration of the Estate of Lawrence W. Inlow, deceased; Anita Inlow and Anita Inlow as guardian of Jesse Inlow v. Jason L. Inlow, et al., No. 29A02-0712-CV-1039, Anita Inlow, the widow of Lawrence W. Inlow appealed, believing Indiana Code Section 34-23-1-1 requires the payment of funeral and burial expenses from a wrongful death award to an estate only when the award specifies what amount should go toward funeral expenses. If the award is able to be used to reimburse the estate, she contends she and her dependent son will receive no portion of those monies.

The appellate court examined I.C. Section 34-23-1-1, which in part states, "That part of the damages which is recovered for reasonable medical, hospital, funeral and burial expense shall inure to the exclusive benefit of the decedent's estate for the payment thereof."

The defendants in this case, the personal representative of Inlow's estate and his four adult children from a previous marriage, argue the statute requires the damages to be used first to reimburse the estate for the funeral and burial costs incurred whether or not a portion of the damages award was designated for these expenses.

Authoring Judge Nancy Vaidik and Judge Paul Mathias agreed with the trial court after examining the wrongful death statute and Indiana Code 34-51-2, which deals with compensatory damages for injuries or death to someone or harm to property. There is no statutory requirement for itemization of damages, and it would be illogical to impose a requirement for wrongful death suits when no requirement exists for other personal injury awards, wrote Judge Vaidik.

The majority also found it was apparent the parties during the settlement contemplated the costs of Lawrence's funeral and burial because the wrongful death cause specifically referred to those expenses in the complaint.

Judge Melissa May dissented, writing the statute specifically addressing wrongful death awards should control, and that statute requires the amount of damages to be categorized as medical, hospital, or funeral and burial expenses, or all other damages. The damages categorized as medical, hospital, funeral and burial go to the estate and all other damages go to the widow and dependent children, she wrote.

"The statute is explicit that funeral and burial expenses are, in this context, an estate obligation. The majority result burdens Anita with an expense (in the form of her loss of wrongful death benefits) the estate should incur," she wrote. "I would accordingly remand for the measurement and categorization of damages Ind. Code § 34-23-1-1 requires and for distribution consistent with that section."

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

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