Judges interpret Probate Code statute in favor of bank

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Finding that a bank did not receive proper notice in order to file a claim against an estate, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment in favor of the estate of Samuel Tolley on the bank’s two claims.

Attorney James Berkshire notified by phone First Merchants Bank on Dec. 17, 2010, that Samuel Tolley died Nov. 17, that he was the attorney for the personal representatives of Tolley’s estate and had filed pleadings and other documents to open administration of the estate, and that proceedings were filed in Miami Superior Court II. First Merchants faxed to Berkshire a document that detailed Tolley’s customer information with a note that he had died in November.

Notice of administration was published Dec. 31, 2010, and Jan. 7, 2011, in the Peru Tribune, but First Merchants never received written notice from the estate. The bank filed two claims against the estate on July 26, 2011. Both parties filed for summary judgment. The estate argued the bank’s claims were untimely as a matter of law; the bank argued they were timely.

In granting summary judgment for the estate, the trial judge noted that First Merchants had actual knowledge of Tolley’s death and there’s no reason for the estate to serve the bank with actual written notice. The court found the bank’s claims untimely.

On appeal, the bank argued that Indiana Code 29-1-7-7(d) requires actual receipt of the notice, like by mail, and that the statute strongly implies the notice must be given in writing. Actual written notice is the bare minimum Due Process requires. The appellate judges agreed.

“Even though First Merchants had actual notice of the decedent’s death, the phone call from the attorney for the personal representatives did not meet the requirement of informing First Merchants of the time period for filing a claim.” Judge Elaine Brown wrote. “Based upon the designated evidence, we cannot say that First Merchants received proper notice. Accordingly, First Merchants’ claims filed on July 26, 2011 which occurred within nine months of Samuel’s death were timely filed.”

The case, In the Matter of the Estate of Samuel L. Tolley, Deceased; First Merchants Bank, N.A. v. Duane Earl Tolley, and Betty June Tolley, 52A02-1208-EU-671, is remanded for further proceedings.  



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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues