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Sister’s Challenge to In-Law’s Share of Trust Comes Far Too Late

June 29, 2020, 5:46 PM

A law firm retained to help a pair of siblings dissolve a family trust nearly 20 years ago can’t be held liable for allegedly failing to provide the sister with a future interest in her brother’s share, the Seventh Circuit said Friday.

No reasonable juror could conclude that Elizabeth Ruckleshaus exercised due diligence in discovering only in 2015 an error that Emswiller Williams Noland & Clark PC purportedly made in 1998, Judge Amy C. Barrett said for the court.

Indiana’s statute of limitations for malpractice claims is two years.

Ruckleshaus claimed that the Indianapolis-based firm was supposed to, for her brother Thomas’ share of the assets, create a life estate for Thomas’ wife Polly and a remainder interest in his share for Ruckleshaus. She only discovered the problem in 2015, when Polly passed away and passed her assets to her children, she said.

But the 1998 retention letter and 1999 trust settlement agreement are silent on a life estate for Polly or a remainder interest for Ruckleshaus, the court said. The probate court granted the siblings’ petition and dissolved the trust in 2000, disbursing more than a million dollars to the siblings, the court said.

The trial court wasn’t wrong to rule that Ruckleshaus was on notice for her malpractice claims by 2000 at the latest, when each sibling received their share of the principal outright, the court said.

Thomas passed away in 2009 and left his assets to his wife, according to the opinion. His will didn’t place any restrictions for Polly’s use of the assets, either, the court said.

The court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Emswiller Williams. Ruckleshaus had failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether she’d exercised ordinary diligence in discovering the alleged problem, the court said.

Judges Diane Wood and Michael Y. Scudder Jr. joined the opinion.

Hunt Suedhoff Kalamaros LLP represented Emswiller Williams.

The Nice Law Firm LLP represented Ruckleshaus.

The case is Ruckleshaus v. Cowan, 7th Cir., No. 19-2770, 6/26/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Porter Wells in Washington at pwells@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

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