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Judges disagree on trust jurisdiction issue

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In a matter of first impression, Indiana Court of Appeals judges disagreed whether an Indiana probate court had subject matter and personal jurisdiction over a trust based in Virginia.

In the case In re the matter of: the Marvine W. Alford Trust, Joseph and Sarah Rogers v. J. Robert Lyons, as Trustee, No. 49A02-0805-CV-413, Chief Judge John Baker and Judge Paul Mathias agreed with a Marion Superior judge's dismissal of a petition to remove J. Robert Lyons as trustee for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The majority examined Marvine W. Alford's will and trust documents and ruled the trust was to be administered in accordance with Virginia laws, where Lyons lived.

Joseph and Sarah Rogers are the guardians of Shirley Rogers, who is the granddaughter of Alford. Alford had two children - Lyons and Marvine Mae Rogers, who is Shirley's mother. The Rogerses lived in Indiana and requested Lyons send a copy of Alford's will, the trust instrument, and a current statement of accounts after Marvine Mae's death. After Lyons delayed in sending the documents, the Rogerses filed a petition in the trial court to remove him as trustee, and sought an accounting and award of attorney fees.

Lyons filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 12(b)(1), which the trial court granted.

The majority reviewed provisions of the Section 199 Restatement (Second) of Trusts, Restatement of Conflict of Laws, Indiana Code, and caselaw to help them affirm the trial court's dismissal of the complaint. In the majority's view, the provisions in Alford's will instructing Lyons "of Alexandria, Virginia" to become trustee expressed her intent that Lyons administer the trust in Virginia, wrote Chief Judge Baker. Any jurisdiction Indiana courts may have had over the trust ended when Alford's estate assets were transferred to Lyons as trustee to be held and administered in Virginia.

"Moreover, it is undisputed that Lyons has continuously and exclusively administered the Alford Trust and the assets in Virginia, and he has been a resident of Virginia since Alford executed her will," he wrote. As such, all claims regarding the administration are to be heard in Virginia courts.

Judge Elaine Brown dissented, writing that she doesn't believe the will's reference to "Robert Lyons, of Alexandria, Virginia" shows an intent the trust should be administered in Virginia. Judge Brown wrote the trial court had subject matter and personal jurisdiction over the case and she would hold the court erred by granting Lyons' motion to dismiss.

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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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