Case Study: Contest Sufficiency
A recent Indiana court case addressed an issue surrounding the grounds to properly contest a Trust. Ms. Seberger executed her Trust in 1992 and amended it several times. She died in 2014. Ms. Schrage, an heir to Ms. Seberger’s estate, requested a complete copy of the Trust from the Trustee. The Trustee responded by serving her with a Notice to Beneficiary and Trust Certification, stating that he was under no obligation to provide her with a complete copy of the trust and providing notice that she had ninety days to contest the validity of the Trust.
The Notice also contained a redacted copy of the Third Restatement of the Trust. Within ninety days, Ms. Schrage filed her Verified Complaint Contesting Validity of the Trust. The Trustee filed a motion to dismiss so the trial court held a hearing and entered an order. The order granted the Trustee’s motion to dismiss because Ms. Schrage failed to properly commence the action pursuant to Indiana Trial Rules and failed to name parties upon whom liability may be imposed (i.e. tortfeasors). The trial court also said she failed to properly docket the Trust.
However, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. First, the Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court had erred in dismissing Ms. Schrage’s complaint for failing to properly commence the action and name possible liable parties. The appellees did not identify any person that Ms. Schrage failed to notify. They simply suggested that certain alleged tortfeasors were not notified.
Ms. Schrage stated in her complaint that the Trustee also served as Ms. Seberger’s attorney and drafted the Trust, creating a presumption that certain amendments and restatements of the Trust were obtained by fraud. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s dismissal and remanded that Ms. Schrage must amend her complaint and plead her allegations with sufficient specificity.
The Court of Appeals next addressed the trial court’s dismissal on the basis that a complaint contesting the validity of a Trust must be filed after the Trust is first docketed. The trial court treated Ms. Schrage’s failure to docket the trust as a matter of jurisdiction rather than a mere procedural defect. Thus, the Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court erred in that determination. It also found that the relevant statute plainly provides that Ms. Schrage was not required to first docket the Trust before bringing a challenge to its validity.