There’s nothing like a true story when it comes to teaching a lesson, we believe, and a recent case that reached the Indiana Court of Appeals is a good example.

If only the father in the story had executed a will spelling out his wishes, there probably would have been no need for a court challenge or for bitter feud that developed between his daughter and her aunts. Fact is, as we estate planning attorneys so often explain to our clients, leaving one’s affairs for others to figure out is a sure recipe for conflict and disaster.

D. was born out of wedlock, and her mother listed no father on her birth certificate. D.’s father (whom we’ll call F.) lived with her mother and eventually married. During all the years D. was growing up, Father acted like a dad, told D. she was his daughter and introduced her to others as his daughter. Eventually, Father requested to be added to her birth certificate.  Shortly thereafter, F. and D.’s mother were divorced. In 2014, F. died, leaving no will.

F.’s sisters claimed they were his next of kin, but the court ruled in favor of D. as being the direct descendant of the deceased.  The sisters appealed, but the Indiana Appellate Court upheld the ruling and D. remained the sole heir to F.’s estate.

There were various twists and turns to the case:

  • D.’s mother had another child who had also lived with D. during her mother’s marriage to F., but that son laid no claim to F.’s estate.
  • The divorce papers listed no children of the marriage.
  • Indiana Code provides that children born out of wedlock are treated as if their parents had been married.

All these complications notwithstanding, the court ruled that the daughter was F.’s only direct heir.  There is, of course, no way to know whether that’s what F. would have wanted.

A will would have ruled.  In the absence of a will, Indiana law determined the result.

– by  Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer $ Associate blog team