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High court rules on estate issue

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The Indiana Supreme Court ruled on a matter of first impression today regarding the disposition of an entire estate during life or death.

In the Matter of the Guardianship of E.N., Adult,No. 88S01-0703-CV-121, deals with the issue of whether the guardianship estate planning statute authorizes dispositions of a protected person's entire estate, not just "excess" assets, as defined in the statute.

In this case, E.N. married and had two children - Shirley and Marvin. He executed a will in 1983 and another in 1992 naming his wife, Shirley, Marvin and their children as beneficiaries.

E.N.'s wife filed for divorce in 1997, and E.N. then lived with his two brothers. That year, and again in 1999, E.N. drafted two more wills, this time leaving his entire estate to his brothers and specifically disinheriting his children.

E.N. suffered from Alzheimer's disease, and the court named his daughter and son as co-guardians. In 1999, E.N. executed a new will, naming his children as sole beneficiaries of his estate; he testified he did not want his brothers to be beneficiaries.

In 2002, Shirley petitioned the guardianship court to implement an estate plan on E.N.'s behalf under Indiana Code 29-3-9-4, the guardianship estate planning statute. The plan was to move everything to a revocable trust with Marvin as trustee. E.N.'s brothers objected to the plan.

The guardianship court ruled in favor of Shirley, ruling E.N. was not competent to make the 1997 or 1999 wills, and it was reasonable E.N. would want his children to receive the bulk of the estate, with a small portion going to his brothers.

After E.N. died in 2004, his children petitioned the court to probate his 1999 will; his brothers objected, citing the guardianship court's ruling that will was invalid. Later, the children petitioned in probate court to probate the 1983 will.

The guardianship court terminated the guardianship "in all respects except as to those matters presently on appeal" in 2005. The Court of Appeals affirmed the guardianship court's approval of the estate plan.

The Supreme Court today reversed the guardianship court's October 2003 order approving the guardian's modified estate plan. For several reasons, Justice Theodore Boehm wrote that the Indiana legislature didn't authorize transfers of someone's entire estate during life or death. The statute in question allows a guardian to dispose of "excess" principal or income, but E.N.'s trust disposed of all of his assets. If the legislature had intended to authorize dispositions at death, it would have authorized wills, trusts, or other estate planning tools to allow it.

Indiana Code 29-1-5-8 provides that with the exception of revocation upon divorce, no written will or any part of it can be changed or revoked because of the condition of the testator. The estate plan effectively revoked E.N.'s valid will, wrote Justice Boehm.

"The legislature is certainly free to authorize guardians to dispose of all property at the protected person's death, but as of now it has not done so," he wrote.

Because the estate plan was not authorized by the guardianship estate planning statute, it must be disapproved, regardless of the validity of E.N.'s prior wills. The validity remains a matter for the probate court to consider under the will contest statutes. The case is remanded with instructions to close the guardianship by reason of E.N.'s death and the disposition of his estate remains a matter for probate court to decide.
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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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