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Tax court rules on inheritance issue

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In Indiana, a person adopted pre-emancipation can't be considered a Class A transferee beneficiary for inheritance tax purposes, the Indiana Tax Court ruled Thursday afternoon in an issue of first impression.

In In Re The estate of Forrest W. Quackenbush, deceased, et al. v. Indiana Department of Revenue, Inheritance Tax Division, No. 49T10-0810-TA-61, Forrest Quackenbush's estate appealed the decision by the Tippecanoe Circuit Court determining its inheritance tax liability. The case raises an issue of first impression in whether, for inheritance tax purposes, a beneficiary should be classified as Class A or Class C transferee when she was adopted pre-emancipation during the lifetime of her biological grandfather.

Quackenbush included his biological granddaughter Pamela Stewart Martin and her two children in his trust. The estate treated the three as Class A transferees when filing its inheritance tax return, which the probate court accepted. But the inheritance tax division filed a petition for rehearing, during which the probate court later determined Martin and her sons should have been classified as Class C transferees, which increased the estate's inheritance tax liability.

The estate argued that nothing in I.C. Section 6-4.1-1-3 or inheritance tax statutes prevents an adoptee from being treated both as a lineal descendant of a natural ancestor and as the natural child of her adoptive parents for inheritance tax purposes. The Tax Court disagreed after examining the interrelationship between the state's descent and devise statutes and its inheritance statutes.

"The overall design of Indiana's probate code with respect to the distribution of property is to treat an adopted child as the natural child of the adoptive parents only," wrote Judge Thomas Fisher.

The General Assembly has unambiguously determined for purposes of inheritance, a child adopted pre-emancipation by unrelated individuals should be placed in a family status equal to that of a natural child of those adoptive parents only, the judge continued. Martin's biological ties to her natural parents were legally severed.

"The Court, having considered Indiana Code § 6-4.1-1-3 in relation to the aforementioned adoption and descent and devise statutes, concludes that the probate court correctly determined that the legislature did not intend to confer Class A transferee status to Pamela, Miles, or Matthias," wrote Judge Fisher.

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