Articles Posted in Probate litigation

Chung I. Huang had a California will and owned real estate in DuPage County, Ill., that was worth more than a $1 million.  When he died, his daughter, I-Chih Amy Huang, petitioned for probate in DuPage County. The judge there instructed her to start first in California and then ask for “ancillary proceedings” in Illinois.

I-Chih Amy Huang appealed and the Illinois Appellate Court reversed because the California will qualified for probate in DuPage County.

After first denying the petition for probate in DuPage County, on appeal Huang asserted that the will met all statutory requirements for admission to probate and that the circuit court was therefore required to do so and erred in denying her petition. Section 5-1 of the Illinois Probate Act provides that probate, if the decedent had no known residents in Illinois, 5-1 “in the county where the greater part of his or her real estate is located at the time of his or her death.” Section 7-1 of the Act allows foreign wills to be admitted to probate in Illinois where either the will has already been admitted to probate outside the state or where “the will was executed outside of this state and in accordance with the law of this state.”

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Margaret Decharinte, 93,  was ruled to be competent to act as administrator of the estate of her late husband, Frank Decharinte. A hearing was conducted in 2018 hearing on objections made by her step-daughter, Joanne Bartolone. Bartolone’s attorney reported that she had interviewed Decharinte and that Decharinte “doesn’t know what year it is,” “thinks it’s 2014,” “doesn’t know what season it is,” “didn’t know what day of the week it is,” “doesn’t handle her own personal finances,” and “doesn’t know what her bank is.”

When Decharinte was questioned by the DuPage County Circuit Court judge, she gave some befuddled answers but insisted that she could handle the job with help from her daughter, Laurie. The judge ruled, “She’s competent enough to handle this with the assistance that she has.”

That decision was appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court for the Second District, which affirmed, explaining that the test for determining whether someone is competent to serve as an administrator under the Illinois Probate Act is the same as the standard for testamentary capacity: “the ability to know and remember the natural objects of his or her bounty, to understand the character of his or her property and to plan a disposition of that property.”

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After John A. Bohn Jr. passed away, his father opened a probate estate and was appointed the estate’s administrator. Patricia A. Buczkiewicz filed a claim against the estate alleging that she and the decedent had lived together for 40 years and she sought quantum meruit and fair compensation for various services rendered while he was alive.

On the estate’s motion, the Circuit Court judge dismissed her claim, finding that, as a matter of law, she was incapable of providing caregiving services to a decedent. The court based its rulings solely on photographs that had been attached to the estate’s reply in support of its motion to dismiss, which depicted a residence previously owned by the decedent, now part of his estate, in a state of disrepair.

On appeal, she contended that the Circuit Court erred in dismissing her claim based solely on the photographs of the residence. The appeals panel agreed with her and reversed the Circuit Court’s dismissal and sent the case back for further proceedings in probate court.

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The Illinois Appellate Court for the First District affirmed a decision from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Probate Division. In this case, when James Cerami died on Jan. 16, 2013, he had been married to Christina Cerami for nearly 20 years. About seven months after James’s death, Christina opened a probate estate and petitioned for letters of administration maintaining that although a will was apparently executed by James and filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County on Feb. 4, 2013, Christina “at this time does not have sufficient information with which to make any determination regarding the validity of this will of the decedent.”

Christina filed a claim against James’s estate on Jan. 15, 2015 seeking in excess of $100,000 for “custodial care” and alleging that due to a breach of their premarital agreement, she was owed a “share of earning and benefits.”

In line with the party’s 1993 premarital agreement, James was to name Christina as entitled to any survivor benefits and as the sole beneficiary of a life insurance policy “in an unencumbered amount not less than $100,000.”

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Relying on Paragraph 3 of the power of attorney statement that Billy D. Collins signed about a week before he died, Patricia Noltensmeier made herself the beneficiary of Collins’s $45,000 Individual Retirement Account (IRA).

The power of attorney given to Noltensmeier included the power of an attorney-in-fact, the “power to make gifts, exercise powers of appointment, name or change beneficiaries under any beneficiary form or contractual arrangement.”

However, the original beneficiaries of the IRA, Kenny Collins and Linda Richard, who agreed to pay their attorney a one-third contingency fee, sued Noltensmeier for breach of fiduciary duty and conversion.

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Stephen Michael Agin died without a will on April 10, 2014 at the age of 82. He owned an account with 4% interest in a trust established by his uncle, Michael Yergovich. The account had a total value of $8,052. Yergovich had died 3 months before Agin.

The trust amendment made by Yergovich provided that in the event of his death, all interests “shall immediately pass and vest, as follows, per stirpes” listing four siblings of Yergovich, each receiving 20% and 5 nieces and nephews, including Agin, each receiving 4%.

Agin’s wife, Jessica, as well as his son from a prior marriage, Stephen L. Agin, filed cross petitions for administration of Agin’s estate.

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Albert Lello’s will gave his assets (after paying debts, taxes and administrative expenses) to his wife, Luzminda and two of his three sisters, Virginia Harris and Rita Sopka. The will, written in 2005, stated that the assets were “to share and share alike in equal shares or to the survivor or survivors of them.”

He died at age 88 in 2012 and left an estate worth approximately $8.2 million. His sister, Virginia Harris, had died and was survived by 4 children; they argued they were entitled to their mother’s share. Luzminda, the wife, renounced the will and elected to take her statutory share.

The Harris children petitioned the court for construction of the will. The surviving sister, Rita Sopka, moved to dismiss, arguing the will created a class gift.

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The Illinois Supreme Court has affirmed an order of the circuit court judge who granted a petition filed by the guardian ad litem (GAL) for the minor, A.A., to vacate a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity (VAP) signed by the respondents Matthew A. and Caitlin S. with regard to the minor. The appellate court affirmed and held that after DNA testing established that Matthew was not the biological father of A.A., the trial court was not required to make a “best interest of the child” determination prior to granting the petition.

Following A.A.’s birth on April 26, 2013, Matthew and Caitlin signed a VAP pursuant to section 6(a) of the Illinois Parentage Act of 1984, 750 ILCS 45/6(a). Caitlin, A.A.’s mother had been married to Jakob S., who signed a denial of paternity as to A.A.

On June 10, 2013, the state filed a petition for adjudication of wardship in juvenile court following an investigation of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) into the conditions of the home where A.A. was living with Caitlin, Matthew and Caitlin’s three other children. The state claimed that there was neglect and an injurious environment based upon inadequate supervision, lack of cleanliness in the home and hygiene issues concerning the four children.

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In an Illinois Appellate Court decision of first impression, it was found that a non-guardian spouse cannot challenge a guardian’s petition to seek an order to bring dissolution of marriage action on behalf of the ward in the probate court. Previously in the Illinois Supreme Court case of Karbin v. Karbin, 2012 IL 112815, the high court held that a guardian may seek court permission to bring a marriage dissolution action on behalf of a ward and overruled a contrary rule previously established. The Karbin decision was later codified as an amendment to the Probate Act, by amending 755 ILCS 5/11a-17(e).

The Karbin opinion and the Act set out certain procedural and substantive safeguards to protect the ward. Among those safeguards is the requirement that a circuit court considering a petition to file for dissolution of marriage hold a hearing to determine whether dissolution is in ward’s best interest. This case was one of first impression because it was a non-guardian spouse who attempted to challenge whether it was in the best interest of the ward to file a complaint for dissolution of marriage. The issue was whether the non-guardian spouse has standing in the “best interests of the ward” hearing.

George F. Warga, the ward, was 91 years old. When his first wife became ill, he hired a nurse, Laima Bacanskas, to help with her care. His first wife died in 2000. Warga continued to retain Bacanskas to help with household duties. In 2006, the two married. They had no children.

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