Appellate panel reverses, reinstates grandson’s will contest

A will contest between a man’s daughter and his grandson will continue in Huntington Circuit Court after the Indiana Court of Appeals determined the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the daughter.

At issue is a 2003 will executed by Dean Kreiger naming his daughter, Nancy Wigent, the personal representative of his estate. After Kreiger’s death in February 2015, the trial court issued an order for unsupervised administration, but Kreiger’s other daughter, Roberta Stellar, requested supervised administration and an accounting of her father’s assets.

Stellar also filed a complaint contesting the will and objecting to its probate, arguing Kreiger was under undue influence and was not of sound mind when the will was executed. She requested her father’s medical records from 2002 until his death, but Wigent refused. Stellar moved to compel discovery, and while that motion was pending her son, Jerry Finton Jr., was substituted as a party after Stellar’s death.

Like his mother, Finton moved for an accounting, asked the trial court to rule on the objection to unsupervised administration and sought payment for attorney fees and expenses. The court ultimately denied the accounting and payments but granted supervised administration of the estate.

Wigent eventually responded to discovery, but the medical releases only applied to Kreiger’s treatment before Jan. 16, 2003, the date the will was executed. Also, she stated in interrogatories that her father had never been diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or diminished mental capacity.

Finton responded with a motion for rule to show cause and a motion to remove Wigent as administrator, arguing that he time limitation on the medical releases went against the trial court’s orders and that her statement that Kreiger did not have dementia or Alzheimer’s was “demonstrably false.” The trial court denied those motions.

Wigent then moved for summary judgment, and Finton on the same day filed a motion for relief pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 56(F). He argued his aunt had not provided the proper medical release until December 2019 — one month before her summary judgment motion — and that he had not yet received all of Kreiger’s medical records. He also pointed to evidence that Kreiger as early as 2000 did not recognize Finton or Stellar, was repeating himself and often contradicted himself.

The trial court did not address Finton’s motion under Rule 56(F) but granted summary judgment to Wigent. She was also awarded summary judgment on his request for attorney fees.

Finton appealed, and the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed Thursday in In the Matter of the Estate of Dean C. Kreiger, Deceased, Jerry J. Finton, Jr. v. Nancy Wigent, Administrator of the Estate of Dean C. Kreiger, Deceased, 20A-PL-1661.

Writing for a unanimous appellate panel, Court of Appeals Judge Elizabeth Tavitas noted that only a week passed between Wigent finally providing the requested medical releases and filing her motion for summary judgment. Further, Finton had not received all of the requested records because of the holidays, the relocation of some providers and the additional time needed to find older records.

“Under these circumstances, we conclude that Finton showed ‘good cause’ for the trial court to grant the motion,” Tavitas wrote. She added that Finton was prejudiced by the trial court’s failure to grant the motion, citing to Erwin v. Roe, 928 N.E.2d 609 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010).

“Finton contested the will based upon alleged undue influence and Kreiger’s alleged unsoundness of mind. Finton accurately argued that the ‘date of onset of [Kreiger’s] mental decline is the key issue in this case,’” Tavitas continued. “… Kreiger’s medical records were essential to determining when Kreiger’s dementia manifested and determining Kreiger’s state of mind when he executed the 2003 will. Because discovery was not complete as a result of Wigent’s delay in providing the medical releases, Finton’s ability to designate evidence in response to Wigent’s motion for summary judgment was hindered here.

“Therefore,” she concluded, “Finton was prejudiced.”

Thus, the COA reversed and remanded with instructions that the trial court either “’refuse the application for judgment or … order a continuance to permit affidavits to be obtained or depositions to be taken or discovery to be had or … make such other order as is just’ pursuant to Trial Rule 56(F).”

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