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Widow wrongly denied hearing challenging late spouse’s will

September 20, 2017

A long-married Terre Haute woman who received just a small portion from her husband’s will when he died was wrongly denied her day in court, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

Dipa Sarkar received about $50,000 when her husband of 56 years, Anil Kumar Sarkar, died in 2015. The money represented only about 2.5 percent of Anil’s assets of more than $2 million, most of which was deposited in a trust. The Sarkars both had been doctors who operated a private pathology practice in Terre Haute, and the record says Anil Sarkar claimed his wife had more assets than him.

After Anil died, Dipa Sarkar requested the trust to be docketed by the probate court and petitioned for an election to take against the will pursuant to I.C. 29-1-3-1. The statute generally entitles a surviving spouse to half of a testator’s estate.

But the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Anil Sarkar’s daughter from a previous marriage, Mili Sarkar Naugle, who also had been appointed successor trustee of the trust. The COA reversed in In the Matter of the Revocable Trust Agreement created by the Settlor, Anil Kumar Sarkar; Dipa Sarkar v. Anuradha ("Mili") Sarkar Naugle, 84A01-1701-TR-67, and remanded.

“The question of whether a testator has established a trust in contemplation of death and with the intent of defeating his surviving spouse’s statutory share is a fact-sensitive inquiry," Judge Terry Crone wrote for the court. "This is a question that the trial court has not yet considered, and one that the parties have not had a full opportunity to explore. Contrary to Dipa’s arguments, she is not somehow automatically entitled to invade the Trust assets to satisfy her statutory election simply because we have found her election timely and permitted her proposed second amended petition. As noted by Mili, Dipa conceded in her motion to reconsider that at least some additional discovery would be necessary by both parties in the event she was permitted to amend her petition to docket the Trust.

"… In sum, we affirm partial summary judgment on the narrow issue determined by the trial court that the Trust is the proper beneficiary of the IRA. We conclude that Dipa made a timely election against the Will, and that the trial court abused its discretion in denying her motion to amend her petition to docket the Trust to bring all issues between the parties before the court. Because genuine issues of material fact remain regarding the impact of the timely statutory election on the Trust assets, we remand for further proceedings.”

 

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