Couple’s gun collection incorrectly classified as ‘household goods’

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The determination as to whether guns or a gun collection are “household goods” should be made on a case-by-case basis, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled. In a case before it Wednesday, the judges held that the large collection owned by a couple who are since deceased was incorrectly classified as “household goods.”

Gary and Elizabeth Roberts amassed a gun collection of more than 330 weapons, most of which were kept in the basement.  On Sept. 27, 2013, Elizabeth Roberts shot and killed her husband. She later shot herself and died Nov. 2, 2013. She was sole heir to Gary Roberts’ estate. After her death, her personal representative, Eric Allen – who was the same personal representative of Gary Roberts’ estate – sold the gun collection for a profit of more than $500,000.

Before Elizabeth Roberts died, Martha Blevins filed a claim against Gary Roberts’ estate seeking damages for personal injuries she claimed to have sustained as a result of a car accident caused by his negligence. At issue is whether the gun collection is considered a household good. The trial court ruled it was, so therefore Elizabeth Roberts had a right of survivorship and its entire value was allocated to her estate. Blevins believed it should be classified as personal property owned as tenants in common, which means the value of the collection would be divided equally among the estates.

Relying on a case from 1917, the judges held in In re the Supervised Estate of Gary Roberts, Deceased; Martha Blevins, Appellant and In re the Supervised Estate of Elizabeth A. Roberts, Deceased; Martha Blevins, Appellant, 30A01-1407-ES-288, the trial court erred in concluding the gun collection was a household good. The sheer size of the collection, the location where most were stored, and the varied items in the collection led the judges to determine that it should not be considered household goods. A gun or set of guns kept for personal protection are likely to be classified as household goods, but in this case, the vast majority of the collection was not owned for personal protection, judge Margret Robb wrote.

Determining whether an item or group of items qualifies as a household good should be made on a case-by-case basis, Robb emphasized. The judges reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

In a footnote, she wrote, “…we take a moment to address an aspect of this case that has been allowed to pass uncontested by the parties and the trial court: both estates had the same personal representative throughout the entire proceedings and thus the same attorney. We are troubled by this dual appointment. It is possible that the estates had different interests —in large part because Gary was shot and killed by Elizabeth. Allen was appointed personal representative of Gary’s estate at Elizabeth’s request and then of her estate by testamentary designation. It is noteworthy that separate or competing arguments were never made on behalf of the two estates, including competing arguments on whether the gun collection was in fact household goods, and all actions taken by Allen favored Elizabeth’s estate. Additionally, as a result of this representation, some possibly applicable statutes and legal doctrines may have been forgone.”


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