COA affirms trial court in siblings’ estate squabble

The Indiana Court of Appeals in an interlocutory appeal has affirmed for a brother in a sibling squabble over Southern Indiana real estate and property left by their mother after her death.

After Dorothy Hall died, stepsiblings Jeff Hall, Doloris Tilly and Doris Andres fought over the Floyds Knobs property and real estate where their mother had lived before her death in 2014.

Hall, who had raised cattle on the property and continued to maintain it after his father died in 1987, was originally left the property by Dorothy in her September 2008 last will and testament. Dorothy also left Tilly the residue of her estate while her other daughter, Andres, received certain money from a joint inter vivos account.

However, Dorothy signed a quitclaim deed conveying the property to Tilly in 2010 and Tilly’s husband was made personal representative of the estate. A special administrator was later appointed in the dispute and Hall, Tilly and Andres were all defined as “interested parties.” Following a failed mediation attempt, Hall’s counsel filed a motion for extension of time after arguing that Tilly had served a request for admissions while he was out of the state and that the answers were due.

Shortly thereafter, Tilly and Andres filed a motion to withdraw petitions to contest will and set aside deeds and joint motion to dismiss any and all claims, stating that they had reached a settlement of claims made by Andres and that they requested the dismissal with prejudice of all claims in the estate.

But with new counsel, Hall asserted that the court shouldn’t dismiss the claims based on his stepsisters’ “secret agreement which did not account for his interest in the property and the request to set aside deeds.” The trial court ultimately denied Tilly and Andres’ motion to dismiss and granted for limited purpose Hall’s affidavit to show his interest in the matter and in support of his request to intervene.

The trial court ultimately found that Hall’s responses to Tilly’s requests for admission were central to issues that were the crux of the case and denied Tilly’s request to strike. It further noted that it was reasonable for Hall to presume that he was already participating as an interested party in the case because he had been ordered to mediation, to pay for part of it and had been recognized as such.

On April 26, 2019, the trial court issued an order denying Tilly’s motion to exclude Hall’s discovery responses, denying Tilly’s motion to strike Hall’s affidavit and granting Hall’s motion to intervene.

After certifying the order for interlocutory appeal, Tilly appealed, arguing that the trial court should have denied the motion to intervene as untimely under Ind. Code § 29-1-14-1, and that the COA should “find that the settlement agreement between the only two parties actively litigating the case is valid and enforceable.”

She further asserted in In Re the Supervised Estate of Dorothy M. Hall (Decedent), Doloris Tilly v. Jeff Hall and Doris Andres, 19A-ES-1450, that her requests to strike Hall’s affidavits and his responses to her request for admissions should have been granted.

But the COA affirmed, first finding that reversal was not warranted on Tilly’s argument that the trial court improperly considered Hall’s affidavits. Neither did it find an abuse of discretion when the trial court denied her request to strike Hall’s responses to her request for admissions.

“Here, the trial court was able to consider the extent of Hall’s delay in filing responses, the relative timing of his obtaining new counsel, the extent to which the requests related to central issues in the case, and the extent to which Tilly suffered a detriment in preparing her case. According to her motion to strike, Tilly served her requests on Hall on February 20, 2017, he had twenty days to respond, and he served his responses on March 31, 2017,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the appellate court.

Next, the COA held that Ind. Code § 29-1-14-1 does not require reversal on the trial court’s order granting Hall’s motion to intervene, pointing out that there was no question that Hall had not alleged the existence of a liability of Dorothy which survived her death.

It lastly held that as a devisee who stands to receive the property if Dorothy’s 2010 deed is invalidated, Hall was not required to file a separate request to set aside the March 2010 deeds or join Andres’s petition.

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