Subsequent Death of a Party Will Not Cause the Court to Lose Jurisdiction to Implement the Terms of the Decree

Family Law Case Review

Case: Judith M. Edwards (n/k/a Judith Klemos) v. Allen O. Edwards, Deceased, and D. Juatrice Edwards, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Allen O. Edwards
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: While it is generally true that a dissolution court loses jurisdiction over a matter upon the death of one of the parties, once a dissolution court has issued a final decree dividing the parties’ property, a subsequent death of a party will not cause the court to lose jurisdiction to implement the terms of the Decree thereafter.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:  Husband and Wife were married for 20 years before their dissolution was entered by agreement in 2012. The Decree included provisions that allocated some of Husband’s retirement interests to Wife. QDROs or similar orders were not implemented thereafter to effect the division of Husband’s retirement accounts.

In 2016, Wife apparently learned that Husband was terminally ill with cancer and filed a motion seeking assistance from the Court in effectuating the division of Husband’s retirement accounts. Before Wife’s requested relief could be implemented, Husband died.

Litigation ensued between Wife and Husband’s surviving subsequent spouse. The dispositive issue was whether the dissolution court, as a matter of law, lost jurisdiction over the disbursement of Husband’s retirement accounts with Husband’s death. The trial court concluded that it lost jurisdiction, from which order Wife appealed.

The Court of Appeals stated that general rule that “dissolution proceedings terminate entirely with the death of one of the parties to the dissolution.” The Court reviewed applicable case law, but took particular interest in the 2001 Beard case. In Beard, the trial court had bifurcated dissolution proceedings, first granting the divorce but then deferring for subsequent resolution the division of the parties’ property. The husband in Beard died after the divorce was entered but prior to the division of property. The Court of Appeals ruled in that case that the death of a party after the dissolution was granted, but before property division was adjudicated, did not deprive the dissolution court of jurisdiction.

In the instant case, because Husband died after the Decree was entered, the trial court did not lose jurisdiction to follow through with its implementation, even after Husband’s death.

The trial court’s order was reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Judith M. Edwards (n/k/a Judith Klemos) v. Allen O. Edwards, Deceased, and D. Juatrice Edwards, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Allen O. Edwards

 

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James A. Reed and Michael R. Kohlhaas of Bingham Greenebaum Doll 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. Bingham Greenebaum Doll, a multidisciplinary law firm serving regional, national, and international clients, is the fourth-largest law firm in Indiana. The firm’s main practices include corporate, property, litigation, labor, government law, and personal services law. Visit the firm’s website at www.bgdlegal.com.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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