Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Dismissal of Claim in Decedent’s Probate Estate Based Solely on Photographs

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.

Buczkiewicz filed a pro se complaint against the estate claiming that she and the decedent met in 1976 and had lived together for 40 years without marrying. She claimed that they supported each other over the years and in 1978 they moved to Northlake, Ill.  At some point after moving, she was electrocuted at work and could no longer adequately perform her duties. While the decedent worked, she stayed home to perform various household chores. For her work over the years, she allegedly never received any compensation. After the decedent died, the administrator evicted her from the Northlake residence. She sought “quantum meruit support during life,” an opportunity to be heard, and “what’s fair.”

The estate moved to dismiss her complaint arguing that she had no standing in cause and was not an interested party because she never filed a timely claim to the estate.  The estate also asserted that she had been evicted from the residence by an order of the court, and in the eviction action, she raised the same allegations contained in her complaint; however, the Circuit Court deemed them unfounded. Later, she obtained legal representation.

Patricia contended that the Circuit Court judge erred by holding that, as a matter of law, she was incapable of providing caregiving services to the decedent while he was alive, based solely on unauthenticated photographs that were attached to the reply of the estate’s motion to dismiss.

The court stated that to adequately file a claim against an estate, the party may file the claim with the Circuit Court, the representative of the estate or both. (755 ILCS 5/18-1(a).) The claim must be filed “in writing” and state “sufficient information to notify the representative of the nature of the claim or other relief sought.”  Because the claim is not a pleading, it does not need to be well-pled, as Illinois’ rules of civil procedures would normally demand. In re Estate of Krpan, 2013 IL App (2d) 121424, ¶ 19, nor does it even need to set forth a formal legal claim.

In this case, because the complaint that was turned into a claim, was filed within six months of the first published notice of the decedent’s death, the claim was not barred.  See 755 ILCS 5/18-3(a), 18-12(a). Given the relaxed standards for filing a claim, Patricia’s claim against the estate, filed in the Circuit Court and alleged that she was entitled to quantum meruit and “fair” compensation for various services rendered over the years for the decedent, it was sufficient to meet the requirements of Section 18-1(a) and 18-2 of the Probate Act.

The appellate court stated that while we express no opinion on the actual merits of the claim raised by Patricia, the Circuit Court prematurely denied her the ability to prove her claim that she was entitled to compensation for the value of services rendered to the decedent while he was alive. Consequently, the Circuit Court erred when it dismissed her claim as a matter of law and accordingly, the dismissal of the claim was reversed and remanded.

Patricia A. Buczkiewicz v. Estate of John A. Bohn, Jr., Deceased, 2019 IL App (1st) 173083 (March 28, 2019).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling probate litigation matters, guardianships, commercial litigation and breach of contract matters for individuals, families and loved ones for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Bellwood, Arlington Heights, New Lenox, Wilmette, Evanston, Skokie, Wheaton, Aurora, Bannockburn, Barrington, Joliet, Northfield, Northlake, Chicago (River North, Wicker Park, Hyde Park, Englewood, Chinatown, South Chicago, West Loop, Austin, Pilsen, Lincoln Park, East Village, Near West Side, University Village), Flossmoor, Olympia Fields, Buffalo Grove and Vernon Hills, Illinois.

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