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COA affirms denial in LaPorte farmland trust dispute

April 15, 2019

A successor trustee who argued his late uncle’s farmland should be converted to a supervised estate was rejected when an appellate panel found a trust agreement’s language — or lack thereof — failed to make the farmland property of the trust.

After Robert Homan died in January 2016, his brother, Paul Homan, opened an unsupervised estate on Robert’s 300 acres of LaPorte County farmland. Paul began renting the land and selling crops, but he was interrupted when Robert’s nephew and successor trustee, John Homan, filed a petition asking that the estate be converted from unsupervised to supervised.

John alleged he was successor trustee of a trust that Robert created in 2013, and that Robert had put the farmland into the trust. Therefore, the land was no longer part of Robert’s personal estate and Paul’s actions regarding the land were improper.

That trust agreement states that “[t]he GRANTOR (Robert) hereby transfers to himself as TRUSTEE (John) the property listed on the attached schedule, marked Schedule ‘A’, and incorporated herein.”

However, the property was not listed or identified under the Schedule ‘A’ — it was blank.

A trial court thus denied John’s petition to convert the estate and struck the trust agreement from the record, noting that “on Schedule ‘A’, there is no mention of farm land placed into the trust.”

On appeal, John argued the farmland was trust property by virtue of the trust agreement and that the trial court erred by not requiring supervision of Robert’s estate and by striking the trust agreement. To support his argument, John relied on Indiana Code section 30-4-2-1(b), contending that despite the blank Schedule “A”, the property Robert intended to be trust property could be ascertained with reasonable certainty because the farmland was discussed in the distribution section of the trust agreement.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals found the trust agreement was insufficient to make the property part of the trust in John W. Homan, Successor Trustee to the February 15, 2013 Trust No. 102433 v. The Unsupervised Estate of Robert L. Homan, deceased, 18A-EU-180.

Specifically, the appellate court noted that because Robert never declared himself trustee of his farmland in leaving Schedule ‘A’ blank, the land was not property of the trust and therefore the trial court did not err in its decision.

“John’s focus on the requirement in Section 30-4-2-1(b) that ‘the terms of the trust must be sufficiently definite so that the trust property … may be ascertained with reasonable certainty’ is misplaced,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the unanimous panel. “That provision pertains to the situation where generally described property (e.g., ‘my home,’ ‘my farm,’ ‘my car’) has been placed in trust and the question is whether the precise property can be identified.

“This provision has no application where, as here, no property — not even generally described property — has been placed in trust,” Vaidik concluded.

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