Indiana Supreme Court upholds marriage limit on son’s inheritance

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The Indiana Supreme Court has upheld a woman’s will that made her adult son’s inheritance dependent on whether he was married.

The court said in a 5-0 ruling last week that nothing in state law prohibits a will from making an inheritance based on certain behavior that must be undertaken, or avoided, by the beneficiary, The Times reported.

The question reached the Indiana Supreme Court after a woman from southern Indiana’s Jackson County died in 2016. Her trust awarded her adult son his share of her estate outright if he was unmarried at the time of her death, but required his share go into a subtrust controlled by her adult daughter if the son still was married to his third wife.

The Indiana Court of Appeals had ruled last year those conditions were an illegal restraint on marriage.

While state law prohibits wills from limiting marriages by the spouse of the deceased, the Supreme Court said no such restriction applies to trusts, an increasingly popular substitute for wills, and the terms of a trust are permitted to set marriage conditions for a spouse, an adult child, or anyone else set to benefit from the trust.

“In fact, the trust code does not prohibit conditions in restraint of marriage at all,” Justice Geoffrey Slaughter wrote for the court. “What it prohibits is ignoring the settlor’s intent (and where relevant, the trust’s purpose) as manifested in the trust’s plain terms.”

Justice Christopher Goff said he agreed with the outcome in the case but warned about a potential “Pandora’s Box of unintended and harmful consequences” that could follow the court’s ruling if the General Assembly doesn’t tighten the trust code.

Goff suggested someone could create a trust with conditions such as the recipient not marrying a person from a different race, refusing to pay property taxes, or participating in another illegal act.

“Surely, the Legislature would not have intended such an unjust or absurd result,” Goff said.

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