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Sale to trust creates first impression

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A sale of a home to a trust that included disputed errors in a sales disclosure form presented an issue of first impression for the Indiana Court of Appeals Monday.

Indiana Code Section 32-21-5 spells out when an owner isn’t liable for any errors, inaccuracies, or omissions of information in the disclosure form. It also states when Chapter 1 of the statute doesn’t apply, and that includes transfers to a living trust.

Rebecca Hoffmeister-Repp sold her lake-front home to Rex Breeden, who bought the home through his revocable trust. When she was preparing the home for sale, she signed a seller’s residential real-estate sales disclosure form saying that there weren’t any moisture or water problems in the basement, crawl space area, or any other area.

More than 10 years before she sold the home, Hoffmeister-Repp saw water in a floor vent and heating duct. She and her husband had a sump pump installed and after that, she never noticed water in the ducts and assumed the issue was fixed.

Breeden saw the sales disclosure form, saw issues with the roof and siding, and got the home at a reduced priced to cover the costs of repairs. Breeden also hired an inspector, who advised Breeden to hire someone else to determine if there was actual water penetration in some decayed wood trim in the house. Breeden didn’t follow through with that recommendation and purchased the home.

He later discovered damage to some structural walls and defective conditions of the duct work. On behalf the trust, he sued Hoffmeister-Repp alleging her statements on the form constituted fraud to allow for damages or rescission, and there was a mutual mistake in the contract which entitled the trust to rescission of the purchase agreement.

The trial court granted summary judgment for Hoffmeister-Repp, which the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed. The suit brought up for the first time what liability a seller to a trust would have for errors contained in the form.

Both sides argued the statute was not ambiguous, but both interpreted it differently. The trust claimed it wasn’t required to establish that any error was within actual knowledge of Hoffmeister-Repp because of the exception involving trusts. She claimed application of the exception to include selling to trusts would allow buyers to avoid the terms of the statute by creating a living trust and having the trust act as the purchaser of record for residential real estate.

In Rex E. Breeden Revocable Trust v. Rebecca Jane Hoffmeister-Repp, No. 03A04-1003-CT-185, the judges found the statute to be ambiguous and ruled in favor of Hoffmeister-Repp. They noted that exceptions to the requirement of a disclosure form are based on a special relationship between the buyer and seller, and some exceptions take into account that the seller is unlikely to have actually lived in the home such that knowledge of the home’s components can’t be assumed.

“Because I.C. § 32-21-5-10 requires this Disclosure Form to be completed and signed prior to an offer for the sale of the residence is accepted, the ninth exception—transfer to a living trust—can necessarily only come into play if the residence is purchased by the seller’s own living trust,” wrote Judge Patricia Riley. “If the sale is occasioned between a seller and a non-related living trust, the seller will always include a Disclosure Form as he is unaware as to the identity of the prospective buyer.”

The judges also held the trust failed to show Hoffmeister-Repp had actual knowledge of the moisture problems in the duct work at the moment she completed the disclosure form, and that there was insufficient designated evidence to support a finding of mutual mistake.

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  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.

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