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COA upholds summary judgment in dispute over trust

March 15, 2018

The only surviving son of a Huntington County woman is not entitled to his mother’s house because she did not properly amend her trust to gift it to him, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

In James R. Cramer v. Robert J. Edwards, 35A05-1704-TR-774, Deloris Brock created the Deloris I. Brock Trust in 2002 which provided that, upon her death, 60 percent of the assets would go to her son Paul Cramer, while 40 percent would go to her son James Cramer. She then conveyed her residence to the trust and penned a separate writing that gifted the house to “Paul H. Cramer J.R. Cramer Right of survivor if not sold.”

After both Brock and Paul died within one year of each other, James was appointed successor trustee, while Robert Edwards was appointed personal representative and first successor trustee of Paul’s estate. A dispute soon ensued between Cramer and Edwards over the validity of the separate writing, with Cramer arguing the house should be distributed to him as the survivor.

Edwards, however, moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the separate writing did not amend the terms of the trust, so Paul’s estate was entitled to 60 percent of the value of his mother’s property. The Huntington Circuit Court agreed and granted the summary judgment motion, which the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld on Thursday.

Judge Michael Barnes wrote that under Indiana Code section 30-4-3-1.5(c)(2)(B), any amendment to Brock’s trust was required to “manifest clear and convincing evidence of the settlor’s intent” to make an amendment. Though the heading of the separate writing referenced the trust, it did not mention the trust, an amendment or the trustee in the text, Barnes said.

Further, under Turner v. Kent, 15 N.E.3d 67, 71 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014), written statements such as the separate writing cannot be used to gift real property, such as the house, Barnes said. Thus, the real property must be distributed to Cramer and Paul’s estate pursuant to the directions in the trust, he wrote.

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