Are will contest actions exempt from Trial Rule 7, regarding filing of an answer? The Indiana Supreme Court just recently decided this question, stating that will contest actions are subject to the Indiana Trial Rules and failure to file an answer may result in a default judgment.
In Rod L. Avery and Marshall K. Avery v. Trina R. Avery, No. 49A05-1004-PL-320, Rod and Marshall Avery filed a petition in the probate estate to remove their sister (Trina) as the personal representative and to probate their mother’s will dated November 14, 2008, which named Rod as the personal representative. On February 1, 2010, Trina Avery filed a separate action to contest the 2008 will, emphasizing that it was the product of undue influence, fraud, and duress, and that her mother had executed a subsequent will on January 14, 2009, which superseded and revoked the 2008 will. Notice of the separate action was given to Rod and Marshal Avery, but neither of them filed an answer. Trina Avery moved for a default judgment, and Rod and Marshall Avery filed a motion to dismiss the default judgment maintaining that a will contest does not require an answer. The trial court denied their motion to dismiss and entered a default judgment against them.
Prior to 1970, before the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure became effective, an answer in a will contest was not required. Post 1970, the Trial Rules became more comprehensive and now govern the practices and procedures in all areas of law in the State of Indiana. The applicability of the Trial Rules to the statutory will contest proceeding is governed by Robinson v. Estate of Hardin, 587 N.E.2d 683, 685 (Ind. 1992), which explains that the Trial Rules “supersede statutory provisions addressing matters purely civil and procedural in nature, unless otherwise stated.” The Trial Rules require a timely filing of an answer and do not exempt will contests. Rod and Marshall Avery failed to file an answer, so they are in default and the trial court’s judgment is affirmed.