Denial of widow’s claim against revocable trust affirmed

A widow who contested whether she could satisfy her election to take against the will of her deceased husband when he transferred the majority of his assets into a revocable trust lost her case before the Indiana Court of Appeals on Tuesday.

When her longtime husband, Anil Kumar Sarkar, died in 2015, Dipa Sarkar received about $50,000 from him. The money represented only about 2.5% of Anil’s assets of more than $2 million, most of which was deposited in a trust. Both of the Sarkars were doctors who operated a private pathology practice in Terre Haute.

Anil, who provided for Dipa to receive no more than $50,000, claimed his wife had more assets than him and “did not need his money or property to support herself.”

After Anil died, Dipa requested the trust to be docketed by the probate court and petitioned for an election to take against the will pursuant to I.C. 29-1-3-1. The Indiana Court of Appeals concluded that Dipa made a timely election to take against Anil’s will and was therefore allowed to amend her petition to more specifically allege her elective share claim against the assets of Anil’s trust.

The appellate court also previously remanded after finding genuine issues of material fact remained regarding the impact of the timely statutory election on the trust assets. However, the Vigo Superior Court ultimately issued judgment in favor of Anil’s daughter, Anuradha Sarkar Naugle, finding “no evidence that Anil’s intent in creating the [T]rust was to frustrate Dipa’s right to a statutory elective share. The [c]ourt further finds that Anil’s [T]rust was not created in contemplation of his death and is therefore not testamentary.”

The trial court therefore concluded that Anil’s trust assets were not subject to Dipa’s statutory elective share, which the appellate court affirmed on appeal in In the Matter of the Revocable Trust Agreement Created by the Settlor, Anil Kumar Sarkar, Dipa Sarkar v. Anuradha (“Mili”) Sarkar Naugle,19A-TR-1814.

Considering the question of whether the trial court properly found that Anil did not establish the trust in contemplation of his death and with the purpose of defeating Dipa’s statutory share, the appellate court noted that there was no evidence indicating that he expected to die anytime soon after the effectuation of the trust instrument.

As in (In re Estate of Weitzman, 724 N.E.2d 1120, 1122 (Ind. Ct App. 2000), significant assets were transferred into the trust throughout the years, with the most recent transfer being Anil’s social security payments. However given the fact that the Trust had been assembling Anil’s assets since 1993 — the investment account and IRA had been transferred to the Trust by 1998 — and that the social security payments only amount to a minor addition to the complete Trust corpus, we cannot conclude that this transfer alone would change our conclusion that Anil’s Trust and corresponding transfers of assets were not created in contemplation of death,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the appellate court.

Additionally, the appellate court noted the “overwhelming evidence from which the trial court could have reasonably inferred that Anil and Dipa were aware of the other spouse’s trust provisions and estate planning.”

As there is ‘no conclusive evidence that there was a secreting of the real ownership of the property, or that [Dipa] did not know and fully approve of the trust agreement,’ we conclude that Anil did not create the Trust with the intent to disinherit Dipa,” the appellate court concluded. “Consequently, as there is substantial evidence that Anil did not create the Trust in contemplation of death and with the intent to disinherit Dipa, we affirm the trial court’s decision to deny Dipa’s claim to satisfy her spousal elective share from the Trust corpus.”

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