Reversal granted for woman in estate heirship dispute

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The Court of Appeals of Indiana on Tuesday reversed a decision finding that a woman is not an heir to her grandfather’s estate and should not inherit from him because she failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove her paternity.

Izetta Dawn Davis-Roper, who was born out of wedlock in Indiana, lived with her parents and paternal grandfather for three years before relocating with her mother to Alabama as a toddler. Despite the distance, she stayed in regular contact with her father and his family and visited them each year.

More than a decade later, Davis-Roper’s mother filed and was granted in Alabama a reciprocal child support action. An order was subsequently issued determining Davis-Roper’s father owed her a duty of support, and the matter was referred for enforcement in Indiana.

Davis-Roper’s father and grandfather both died without wills, and Davis-Roper served as the personal representative for the unsupervised administration of her father’s estate. She was also listed in the petition of her grandfather’s known heirs but was later questioned by paternal family members as to the legitimacy of her paternity.

Relative Michael Schroeder filed a petition to determine Davis-Roper’s heirship, claiming Davis-Roper had previously been incorrectly identified as one of her grandfather’s heirs. Schroeder and others argued Roper’s paternity had not been established through any procedure recognized in Indiana Code § 29-1-2-7, the statute dealing with inheritance for a child born out of wedlock.

The Perry Circuit Court, after initially admitting Davis-Roper’s exhibit of the Alabama duty of support order, excluded it after concluding she was not an heir in her grandfather’s estate. It also found she should not inherit from him because she had failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove her paternity through the statutory elements set forth in the Indiana code.

But the Court of Appeals rejected that decision, finding the trial court should have admitted the exhibit into evidence pursuant to the full faith and credit clause of the United States Constitution.

“Full faith and credit means that judgment of a state court should have the same validity and effect in every state of the United States as it had in the state where it was made,” Judge Rudolph Pyle wrote for the COA. “… The trial court abused its discretion in excluding Exhibit H.”

It also found that had the trial court admitted Exhibit H, it would have had before it evidence that Davis-Roper had established her paternity in a cause of action that was filed during her father’s lifetime.

“Davis-Roper would therefore have been treated as if Father had been married to Mother at the time of her birth and would have been allowed to take by representation Father’s share of Grandfather’s Estate,” the appellate court concluded. “The trial court’s error is therefore inconsistent with substantial justice.”

The case of Izetta Dawn Davis-Roper v. The Estate of Glenward August Schroeder, Deceased, 21A-ES-556, was therefore remanded to the trial court for proceedings consistent with the appellate court’s opinion.

In a footnote, the COA said it need not address Davis-Roper’s arguments related to issue preclusion and the constitutionality of I.C. 29-1-2-7 due to the reversal.

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