COA reverses granddaughters’ attorney fees award

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Two women who won attorney fees against their grandmother’s estate were hit with a reversal Tuesday from the Court of Appeals of Indiana.

Laura E. Barker died in April 2019, 17 years after the death of her husband, Dewey P. Barker.

Dewey’s will provided that the residue of his estate go to Union Bank & Trust Company to hold to benefit Laura. It also provided that, upon termination of the trust, the balance was to be divided among their surviving children, Dewey R. Barker and Elizabeth Hollrah, and their grandchildren, Connie Barker, Lisa Barker and Victoria Williams. The grandchildren were the children of a second son, James, who died before his parents.

When Laura died, her will bequeathed the “rest, residue and remainder of my property, both real and personal of any type whatsoever in equal shares in value, with one share to each of my children Elizabeth J. Hollrah and Dewey R. Barker who shall survive me, and one-share to the issue per stirpes of each of my said named children who shall not survive me.”

Laura designated Hollrah as executor of her estate, and Hollrah, pursuant to the will, chose Janice Stacy as co-executor.

When Hollrah and Stacy filed petitions related to the estate in the Shelby Circuit Court, Lisa and Connie moved to transfer the estate to Decatur County, to remove the nonresident personal representative and to convert to a supervised estate. Lisa and Connie alleged there were significant questions concerning the handling of the assets of their grandfather’s estate while under the control of Laura or Hollrah following his death.

The Shelby Circuit Court ordered the matter transferred to the Decatur Circuit Court and ordered the personal representative to pay for the transfer charges.

In Decatur County, although Hollrah and Stacy asserted the grandchildren had no standing because they had already received their inheritance from the estate, the trial court ordered that an independent personal representative be appointed and that the estate be administered as a supervised estate.

The Decatur Circuit Court also granted Lisa and Connie’s administrative expense claim in the amount of $50,159.54, finding that “without the intervention of Lisa and Connie and the efforts of their attorneys, the statutory obligation of restoring co-mingled assets to Dewey’s estate would not have occurred.”

But on appeal, Hollrah and Stacy argued the legal fees incurred by Lisa and Connie were not expenses of administration of Laura’s estate.

The COA agreed and reversed in Elizabeth Hollrah and Janice Stacy, Individually and as Personal Representatives of the Estate of Laura E. Barker v. Lisa Barker and Connie Barker, 21A-ES-2432.

“The personal representatives of Laura’s estate did not authorize Lisa and Connie’s fees, and the various filings and requests by Lisa and Connie did not serve to preserve the assets of Laura’s estate. The efforts resulting in the transfer of assets from Laura’s estate to Dewey’s estate were designed and served to preserve the assets of Dewey’s estate, not Laura’s estate,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote. “We conclude on these facts that the attorney fees incurred by Lisa and Connie did not constitute expenses of administration of Laura’s estate.”

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