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COA: Bank didn't breach duties as trustee

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Although tempted to analyze with "the benefit of hindsight" a suit filed by beneficiaries of a trust against a bank that served as the trustee, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the bank after finding the bank acted in good faith.

The beneficiaries of a trust set up by their father, Chanell and Micaela Cochran, filed the suit In re: Matter of the Trust of Stuart Cochran Irrevocable Trust v. KeyBank, N.A., No. 71A04-0806-CV-3847, alleging KeyBank, as trustee, had breached its obligations and violated the prudent investor rule.

Stuart Cochran set up the trust in 1987 with his then-minor daughters as beneficiaries and received assistance from insurance advisor Art Roberson. KeyBank became successor trustee in 1999, just after Roberson had recommended the trust be replaced with two variable universal life policies. Stuart agreed to change his policy to a safer John Hancock one in 2003 with a fixed payout of around $2.5 million after his variable universal life policies continued to lose money in the stock market following Sept. 11, 2001. The previous policy was originally valued around $8 million before losses.

Stuart died unexpectedly shortly after the new policy was confirmed, leaving his daughters with only the $2 million in life insurance funds instead of the larger amount they could have had from the previous variable universal life policies. The daughters filed suit and the trial court ruled in favor of the bank.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals reviewed the case under the Indiana Prudent Investor Act, which cautions that compliance with the act's rules should be made in light of the facts and circumstances at the time a trustee made a decision or action, not by hindsight. Now it is known that the stock market would rebound and the variable universal life policies would have been worth more than the John Hancock policy, wrote Chief Judge John Baker, and the appellate court can understand why the daughters wish that KeyBank had made a different decision. However, KeyBank acted in good faith in making the switch and had an independent outside insurance consultant review all the policies before making the decision.

The Court of Appeals also affirmed that under the Prudent Investor Act, KeyBank didn't improperly delegate certain decision-making functions to Roberson and Stuart, the bank didn't violate the PIA by disregarding the insurance consultant's recommendations regarding the variable universal life policies, and that the bank didn't violate the PIA for failing to investigate alternatives for other life insurance policies.

While the appellate court found KeyBank's decision-making process and communication with Stuart's daughters wasn't perfect, the trial court didn't err in finding it was sufficient.

"Although it is tempting to analyze these cases with the benefit of hindsight, we are not permitted to do so, nor should we. KeyBank chose between two viable, prudent options, and given the facts and circumstances it was faced with at that time, we do not find that its actions were imprudent, a breach of any relevant duties, or a cause of any damages to the (daughters)," wrote the chief judge.

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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