COA reverses judgment in siblings’ estate dispute

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A disagreement between two siblings has been squashed now that an appellate court has sided with a woman who was granted last-minute possession of her mother’s estate just days before her death, canceling a former transfer on death deed shared with her brother. 

In October 2014, Miriana Robinson executed a transfer on death deed making her two children, Rea and Radley Robinson, tenants in common of her Munster estate upon her death.

Nearly two years later and less than a week before she died, Miriana executed and delivered a quitclaim deed transferring her interest in the real estate to Rea on November 12, 2016, effective immediately. The quitclaim deed was not recorded before Miriana’s death on November 18, and Rea didn’t record the quitclaim deed until December 2016. 

Radley filed for declaratory judgment, arguing that the beneficiary designations in the TOD deed were not revoked and that the estate was transferred upon Miriana’s death to the siblings as tenants in common. After cross motions for summary judgment were filed, a trial court ruled in favor of Radley.

On appeal in Rea Robinson v. Radley Robinson, 18A-EM-2742, Rea argued the trial court abused its discretion in striking her affidavits designated as evidence on summary judgment, and in issuing summary judgment to Radley altogether.

The Indiana Court of Appeals did not find any abuse of discretion of Rea’s first assertion, finding that the relevant facts underlying the summary judgement in Radley’s favor were not at dispute. Rather, the sole issue was whether Miriana’s residence belonged to Rea and Radley under the TOD deed or to Rea under the quitclaim deed.

It did, however, find issue with the trial court’s award of judgment to Radley after it concluded that the quitclaim deed left no interest in the property to transfer on Miriana’s death by way of the TOD deed. Thus, Radley’s interest in the real estate was extinguished before Miriana’s death.

Radley maintained that, under the Transfer on Death Property Act, because Rea had not yet recorded the quitclaim deed at the time of Miriana’s death, the TOD deed had not been revoked and the TOD deed controlled. But that argument was rejected when the appellate court concluded I.C. section 32-17-14-16(h) applied to the circumstances at hand.

“In sum, the undisputed evidence shows that the quitclaim deed was a valid and immediate transfer of the real estate to Rea under Indiana Code Section 32-21- 1-15.2,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the unanimous court.

“Accordingly, we hold that, under Indiana Code Section 32-17-14-19(a), there was no property interest to transfer on Miriana’s death via the TOD deed and that, under Indiana Code Section 32-17-14-16(h), the unrecorded quitclaim deed executed and delivered during Miriana’s lifetime terminated the beneficiary designation of the TOD deed ‘with respect to the property transferred.’”

Judge John Baker concurred in a separate opinion, noting that I.C. section 32-17-14-16(j) did not apply in the case and that no requirement existed that Miriana record a subsequent deed of conveyance or an affidavit.

The appellate court therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded the case with instructions for the trial court to grant Rea’s summary judgment motion.

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