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COA: Trial Court Properly Denied Summary Judgement that a Wife’s Interest in a Trust was Not Marital

Roberts v. Roberts (September 20, 2023) (Trust Interest as Marital Property)

HELD: Trial court did not err when it denied Wife’s request for summary judgment that Wife’s interest in a trust was not marital property. FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Husband and Wife married in 1962. During the marriage, Wife’s mother created the Trust, which provided that Wife receive net income of the Trust not less than quarterly, and also gave Wife the opportunity to demand limited distributions of Trust principal. The Trust also included a spendthrift provision, stating that Trust income and principal “be free from the control or interference of any creditor… or any spouse of a married beneficiary.” In early 2022, Wife filed a petition for dissolution of marriage, and then sought summary judgment that her interest in the Trust was not a marital asset. Wife pointed to the spendthrift provision of the Trust, and further argued that she had “no present pecuniary interest divisible in the dissolution action.” Husband responded that “trust distributions have served as the lion’s share of their monthly income” and that Wife “receives monthly distributions from the Trust . . . occurring currently, are not remote, and are subject to division as a marital asset.” Following a hearing, the trial court concluded that “[w]hile the Court may determine, after final hearing and the consideration of facts, testimony, and evidence that the [Trust] should not be considered a marital asset, the Court does not determine same as a matter of law.” Wife’s interlocutory appeal followed. The Court of Appeals noted that Indiana’s definition of “marital property” is very broad and includes the right to receive future payments, provided the right is vested. The Court was impressed that Wife began receiving her mandatory income distributions, in substantial amounts, during the marriage. And, importantly, Wife’s rights under the Trust were not subject to complete defeasance. “In light of the Trust’s assets, sources of income, and ongoing mandatory payments, we cannot say that Wife’s interest is too remote or speculative to be capable of division or that she does not have a presently fixed right to future enjoyment.” Thus, the trial court did not err when it denied Wife’s motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals was careful to caution that it expressed no opinion as to how the trial court should ultimately characterize Wife’s interest in the Trust after its final hearing. The trial court’s denial of summary judgment was affirmed. _______________________________

James A. Reed and Michael R. Kohlhaas represent clients in a wide spectrum of relationship transition and wealth planning matters, including premarital agreements, estate planning, cohabitation, separation, divorce (especially involving high net worth individuals and/or complex asset issues), custody, parenting arrangements, adoption, and domestic partnerships.

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