Articles Posted in Probate Litigation

Katherine Black sued two defendants for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Ultimately, the trial did not go as she had expected; the jury rejected her claims.

On appeal, she argued that her trial was riddled with errors. She requested that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit overturn the jury’s verdict for several reasons. However, the court of appeals found there were no errors that warranted a reversal; therefore her request for a new trial was denied.

In 2012, the plaintiff, Katherine Black, and her husband Bernard were professors at Northwestern University School of Law.  In 2012, Bernard’s mother passed away and left behind roughly a $3 million estate. The Blacks expected to inherit 1/3 of that estate. As it turned out, Bernard’s mother cut them out of their will and left virtually the entire estate to Bernard’s homeless and mentally ill sister, Joanne, who lived in Denver. In late 2012, Bernard had himself appointed Joanne’s conservator and then worked to redirect much of her inheritance to himself and his wife.

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On Feb. 16, 2017, Kevin and Anita Crawford died in an automobile crash along with one of their children. The remaining two children were placed in the care of Anita’s parents. Anita’s father, Irwin Schmidt, was named the executor of their estate on April 10, 2017.

On Aug. 4, 2017, Wayne Crawford, Kevin’s father, filed a claim against both Kevin and Anita’s estate, alleging that they each jointly and severally owed him $223,529.55 for money they had borrowed from Crawford beginning in 2005. It was alleged that these loans were for groceries, utility bills and debt payments.

Crawford also claimed that he leased a vehicle for Kevin and Anita and paid it off after their deaths.

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Paul Oleksiuk’s legacy included an intricate probate puzzle. His 2012 will revoked his 2011 will.  He died in 2014 before finalizing a revision to a 2012 will. However, on June 9, 2017, a Cook County judge ruled that the 2012 will didn’t qualify for admission to probate because it wasn’t notarized.

Inasmuch as the petitioners, Oleksiuk’s sister and nephew, could not find an original copy of the 2011 will, they tried again, petitioning for admission of a copy of the 2011 will.

Attacking the second petition, with a combined motion to dismiss based on Sections 2-615 and 2-619 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, his widow, Irena Oleksiuk, argued that the revocation clause in the defective 2012 will blocked the petitioners from rebutting the presumption that he intended to revoke the missing 2011 will.

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Daniel and Rachel Brenner purchased four works of art from Evelyn Statsinger in the 1950s and 1960s. The artworks were displayed in the Brenner home continuously through the time of Daniel’s death in 1977 and Rachel’s death in 1990. The Brenner children, Ariel and Jonathan Brenner, inherited the artwork.

When Jonathan died in 2010, he died without a will. His widow, Terry Brenner, was his sole heir.

The paintings were given back to Evelyn Statsinger in 1996. The transfer took place with Jonathan, Terry, their daughter, Statsinger and Statsinger’s husband being present.

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In 1983, Alma and Israel Zivin executed a mutual last will and testament. The will stated that upon either the death of Alma or Israel, all property would go to the other. The will further stated that in the event that they both died or upon the death of their survivor, 50% of their estate should go to the specified family and friends and the remainder would pass to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in New York City.

The Zivins had no children. Israel passed away in 1984 and his estate was bequeathed in accordance with the terms of the will to Alma.

In 2004, Alma signed her own will, which expressly revoked any and all prior wills. Her new will made specific bequests of personal items and gave the remainder of her estate to a “pour over trust” with no provision made to Hebrew University.

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Jose Adame paid $145,000 for a house that was being sold by joint tenants, Arnold and Arthur Lynch. There was a problem with the warranty deed that Arnold signed in June 2005.

In 2002, Arnold was in a coma following a car accident. The judge appointed James Brya as plenary guardian of Arnold’s estate and person. Arnold eventually regained consciousness. But the guardianship was never canceled. This meant that the warranty deed signed by Arnold, who was still under the court’s guardianship orders, was invalid or void.

Arnold died intestate ten months after the closing, leaving Arthur as the sole heir. In 2009, the Cook County public guardian was appointed as plenary protector of Arthur’s estate and person.

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The Rev. Timothy O’Malley and William O’Malley were two of Eileen O’Malley’s sons. In 1996, Eileen O’Malley experienced the first signs of dementia. The same year, Eileen and Timothy opened a joint checking account with First Midwest Bank Corp.

Eileen instructed that the account statements be sent to the Palos Country Club, a family asset managed by William O’Malley. Timothy never saw the account statements and so had no way of knowing that it contained almost $5 million in February 2004 and that by February 2009, there was less than $100,000 in the account. William had withdrawn the rest.

William, with two of his siblings, developed a plan “to defraud their 8 siblings and Eileen so that [they] would control Eileen’s assets.” To accomplish that, they had Eileen sign documents, including “wills, trust agreements and checks which did not reflect Eileen’s wishes.”

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Richard Yanni appealed from the trial court’s order that imposed a constructive trust on property he owned and awarded attorney fees and punitive damages against him. The appellate court ruled that the trial court was wrong in denying his motion to dismiss. Accordingly, the Illinois Appellate Court vacated the trial judge’s judgment in favor of the petitioner Diana Law, the Kane County Public Guardian, and reversed the trial judge’s denial of Yanni’s motion to dismiss.

In March 2013, an emergency temporary guardianship brought by the daughter of Patricia Yanni ordered that Patricia was a disabled person. In the petition brought by Patricia’s daughter, Kristin Davison, it was alleged that Patricia Yanni was unable to handle personal and financial affairs due to her dementia and physical illnesses.

Davison alleged that Patricia’s son, Richard, who lived with Patricia, “was found to be neglecting his mother.” Patricia had been removed from her home and placed in a skilled nursing facility. Davison wanted to have the public guardian appointed as guardian of her mother’s estate and to have herself appointed as guardian of her mother. The trial judge granted that petition appointing Davison as temporary guardian with leave to place her mother in an appropriate facility. The court appointed Law, the Kane County Public Guardian, as temporary guardian of Patricia Yanni’s estate. The court also appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL).

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In a case involving Donald Howell, who was born with profound cognitive impairment and who had received a settlement of $11 million from a Chicago landlord from lead-poisoning, the issue here was, could the court “substitute judgment” on where his money would go at the time of his death? Relying on the “substituted judgment” doctrine, his co-guardians, Northern Trust Co. and LaTanya Turks, argued that Donald would want his money to go to Turks, his mother and full-time caretaker, rather than also being shared under Illinois Intestacy Law with family members, which included his father and ten half-siblings born to ten different women who allegedly had no significant role in his life.

Under the Illinois Probate Act, Section 11a-18(a-5) authorizes guardians to draft estate plans that depart from the default formula for distributing a decedent’s assets. That section of the statute, which refers to acting “in keeping with the ward’s wishes so far as they can be ascertained,” also says the “ward’s wishes, as best they can be ascertained, shall be carried out.”

In this probate matter, the “ward’s wishes” provisions were in conflict with the court- appointed guardian ad litem who opposed the estate plan suggested by Northern Trust and Turks. According to the guardian ad litem, the proposed estate plan was improper because Donald never had testamentary capacity and could not express any wishes about who would inherit his money on his death.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago has affirmed a decision by a United States district court judge regarding subject-matter jurisdiction and a voluntary dismissal of a complaint.

Mieczyslaw Kuznar, a native of Poland, moved to the United States leaving his wife, Emilia, and his son, Thomas, behind. While living in the United States, Kuznar married Anna, but never divorced Emilia. Kuznar died intestate in 1995. Anna began collecting spousal benefits from his pension the year of his death.

In 1997, Thomas, by that time an adult, opened a probate estate in the Illinois state court seeking judicial administration of his father’s estate. Thomas was acting on his mother’s behalf; she continued to live in Poland.

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