ILNews

Justices: Trustee of revocable trust serves self

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The Indiana Supreme Court accepted a revocable trust case to answer the first impression question: While a trust is revocable, whom does the trustee serve? The justices concluded that an Indiana woman, as trustee, served herself.

In Harold O. Fulp, Jr. v. Nancy A. Gilliland, 41S01-1306-TR-426, Harold Fulp Jr. sought specific performance of the purchase agreement he made with his elderly mother to buy the family farm at a discounted price. Ruth Fulp placed the farm in a revocable trust and was the trustee, primary beneficiary and settlor. Her daughter Nancy Gilliland, who became successor trustee after Ruth Fulp resigned as trustee, refused to proceed with the sale. Fulp Jr. had purchased the farm at the same per-acre discount that Gilliland had paid when she previously purchased another portion of the farm.  

The trial court denied specific performance because it found Ruth Fulp breached her fidicuary duty to her children by selling the farm at a low price and Fulp Jr. breached his fiduciary duty as a beneficiary by participating in the sale. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed, believing Ruth Fulp had sold the farm as settlor, not trustee.

“Nancy sought transfer, asking us to decide whether the trustee of a revocable trust owes a duty to the settlor alone or also to the remainder beneficiaries,” Justice Loretta Rush wrote. “We granted transfer to address that issue, and we conclude that while a revocable trust is revocable, the trustee only owes a duty to the settlor. Therefore, Ruth was free to sell the farm as trustee, as the purchase agreement reflected, without breaching any fiduciary duty. And since Ruth owed her children no duty as trustee, she had no need to sell the farm as settlor, as the Court of Appeals concluded—nor would the facts in this case support any intent to amend the Trust.”

Ruth Fulp’s fiduciary duty was to herself, as settlor and primary beneficiary. That duty does not extend to her beneficiary children, because that would mean she was serving two masters, the justices held. Such conflicting duties would essentially make the trust irrevocable because complying as trustee with her own wishes to revoke the trust would breach the purported duty to the remainder beneficiaries by placing her own interests above theirs.

Since the trial court misinterpreted the trust and law by determining Ruth Fulp had a duty to her children that she breached and Fulp Jr. aided in that breach, the court abused its discretion in denying specific performance, Rush wrote.

 

 

ADVERTISEMENT

  • mo better
    Victim: Dishonest Men Song: "John Wesley Harding" (1967) Method: A gun in every hand, i.e., two guns Motive: Money; straightening out situations; avoiding foolish moves Verdict: No charge held against him could they prove
  • bob zimmmerman
    Huh is that the guy who shot trayvohn? lol
    • Cannot resist
      Well I think Robert Zimmerman sang it best, "You're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed You're gonna have to serve somebody, Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord But you're gonna have to serve somebody."

      Post a comment to this story

      COMMENTS POLICY
      We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
       
      You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
       
      Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
       
      No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
       
      We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
       

      Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

      Sponsored by
      ADVERTISEMENT
      Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
      1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

      2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

      3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

      4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

      5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

      ADVERTISEMENT