August 2015

Indiana Supreme Court Reverses Judgment in Estate Probate Case

United States - Indiana

On August 5, 2015, claimant David Markey obtained reversal of a summary judgment dismissing his claim in the Indiana Supreme Court in an action to enforce the terms of a contract between his father and stepmother that required the parties to make mutual wills. Our firm represented the claimant in the victory, with assistance from former partner and current executive director of Indiana Legal Services, Jon Laramore.

The case involved David—the only child of John and Betty Markey—whose father thought his son would inherit half of his assets pursuant to a contract to make and not revoke a mutual will that John had executed with his second wife, David’s stepmother. After John died, however, David’s stepmother breached that contract, executing a new will that left everything to her own children. The personal representative of the estate never notified David of his stepmother’s passing or the opening of her estate. Nonetheless, almost nine months after his stepmother’s death, David learned of her breach of contract and her new will disinheriting him. 

David then brought suit to enforce the contract, but the stepchildren prevailed on summary judgment. Relying on a narrow common law definition of “claim,” the trial court found that David’s suit was not a “claim” but was still subject to the three-month statute of limitations for filing a claim. However, because the cause of action was not a “claim” as defined by the Probate Code, the Court of Appeals held that David was not entitled to a statutory exception that permits reasonably ascertainable creditors to file claims within a longer nine-month period when they are not provided with notice of the estate’s administration, as David was not.

The Supreme Court granted transfer and vacated summary judgment, agreeing with our firm's argument that David’s claim for breach of contract to make and not revoke mutual wills is a “claim” as that term is defined under Indiana’s Probate Code, which entitles him to the nine-month claims period if he successfully proves that he was a reasonably ascertainable creditor who, consequently, was entitled to receive notice. The Supreme Court’s clarification and broad interpretation of the word “claim” under Indiana’s Probate Code will promote uniform and expeditious estate administration because all claims, whether founded in contract or otherwise, will be subject to the same claims periods.   

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