Articles Posted in Illinois Supreme Court

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Karavidas, admitted to practice law in Illinois in 1979, worked for the City of Chicago, the Attorney General, and several law firms. In 1988, he opened his own practice. His father executed will and trust documents prepared by another attorney in 2000, and died later the same day. Karavidas was named executor and successor trustee. His dealings with the estate resulted in charges of conversion of assets entrusted to him; breach of fiduciary obligations; conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, in violation of Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct; conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice; and conduct tending to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or the legal profession into disrepute. The Review Board of the IARDC recommended that charges be dismissed. The Illinois Supreme Court agreed. Before professional discipline may be imposed under Supreme Court Rule 770, the Administrator must demonstrate that the attorney violated the Rules of Professional Conduct. Personal misconduct that falls outside the scope of the Rules may be the basis for civil liability or other adverse consequences, but may not result in professional discipline. View "In re Karavidas" on Justia Law

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A February 2008 automobile accident resulted in the death of the driver who was purportedly at fault. His son was issued letters of office to serve as independent administrator of the driver’s estate. The limitations period for plaintiff’s claim of personal injuries was two years. Just before that limitations period was to expire, plaintiff filed suit, apparently unaware of the driver’s death. Her action against a dead person was invalid. Attempts to serve process were unsuccessful, but a special process server eventually notified the plaintiff that the defendant was dead. The Code of Civil Procedure, 735 ILCS 5/13-209, allows a two-year extension of the limitations period under certain conditions, including when a plaintiff moves to substitute the decedent’s personal representative as defendant. The plaintiff did not do so, but obtained the circuit court’s permission to have an employee of plaintiff’s attorney appointed as “special administrator” to defend the estate, a procedure that has no statutory authorization. The circuit court dismissed the action on limitations grounds, but the appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the dismissal. Upon learning of the defendant’s demise, the plaintiff should have sought leave to amend the complaint to substitute as defendant the decedent’s son, as decedent’s personal representative, and should have then served process on that representative. The plaintiff failed to use reasonable diligence. View "Relf v. Shatayeva" on Justia Law

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Boyar died in 2010, suffering from dementia. His will, under which his son Robert was administrator, distributed all property to a trust for the benefit of Boyar’s children and grandchildren. Under the trust, Robert and a bank were named co-trustees, with a provision that a trustee could be removed by beneficiaries. Less than a month before his death, Boyar had executed an amendment naming a lawyer who was his neighbor as trustee, not be subject to removal by beneficiaries. The trust provided that personal property should be divided among the children by their own agreement, which they began to do about a week after the demise. A few weeks later the lawyer informed Robert of the amendment and demanded a personal property itemization. Robert believed that the amendment, not changing substantive dispositions, was orchestrated to permit the lawyer to maintain control of the trust and collect fees. The circuit court rejected a claim of undue influence and dismissed the petition challenging the amendment. The appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, reasoning that there was no need to address whether the “doctrine of election” (applicable to will contests) should be extended to living trusts that serve the same purpose as a will, since that doctrine could not be invoked under the circumstances. Allowing Robert to challenge the amendment had no impact on substantive distribution. By accepting the items of personal property, he cannot be said to have made a “choice” that precludes the challenge. View "In re Estate of Boyar" on Justia Law

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Donald died in 2007 at age 84. His will, dated December, 2006, was admitted to probate. The woman he had married one year before execution of that will, Blanca, was named as executor. James, who had been held out by Donald as Donald’s biological son throughout his life, sued Blanca in her individual capacity and as executor, contesting the will. In 2000 James had learned from Donald that James’s mother, who died in 2001, married Donald, after James’ biological father abandoned them. Donald stated that a “secret” adoption had taken place. There is no legal documentation of an adoption. The disputed will states, “I am married to Blanca DeHart. I have no children.” James cited this as evidence of unsound mind and alleged that, during the brief marriage, Blanca became joint tenant on real estate, bank accounts and brokerage accounts worth millions of dollars, and obtained a power of attorney to act on her then-husband’s behalf, exercising control over his real estate dealings and sale of the family farm. The circuit court dismissed with prejudice. The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, reasoning that the complaint alleged sufficient facts to state causes of action as to lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, contract for adoption and equitable adoption. The court erroneously denied a motion to compel deposition of the attorney who drafted the disputed will. View "DeHart v. DeHart" on Justia Law

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Bjork was a nurse for Dama’s late wife. O’Meara was Dama’s dentist. Dama, then 90 years old, told Bjork that O’Meara had been asking for money and that “he did not want O’Meara to get everything.” Dama’s banker, Williams, informed Bjork that Dama wanted to name Bjork as death-beneficiary on a bank account and sent Bjork a “Power of Attorney,” signed by Dama. Bjork signed and returned it to Williams. Later, Dama signed a power of attorney, appointing O’Meara as agent, and revoking powers previously granted to Bjork, then executed a will, leaving his entire estate to O’Meara. Bjork and Dama remained in contact by mail, telephone, and visits until shortly before Dama’s death. O’Meara filed the will and was appointed independent representative of Dama’s estate. Bjork filed citation petitions (Probate Act, 755 ILCS 5/16-2). After the estate closed, Bjork sued for intentional interference with testamentary expectancy. The circuit court dismissed, citing the six-month limitation period of the Probate Act. The appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. Bjork’s tort claim does not implicate concerns regarding certainty in property rights or efficient estate administration. The probate proceeding did not provide meaningful relief and the claim does not seek to invalidate Dama’s will. View "Bjork v. O'Meara" on Justia Law

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In 1994 Sessions created a trust for his personal benefit, with a "spendthrift" provision prohibiting use of trust assets to pay creditors. In 1995, he irrevocably promised $1.5 million to Rush Medical Center for a building and provided for it in his will. The building, now in operation, bears his name. Sessions later blamed Rush for not diagnosing sooner the cancer of which he died in 2005, without having paid the pledge. Six weeks before his death, he executed a new will making no provision for the pledge. Rush filed a successful probate claim, but estate assets were insufficient to fulfill the pledge. Rush filed a supplemental proceeding to reach assets in the 1994 trust, worth almost $19 million in 2005. The trial court entered summary judgment for Rush; the appellate court reversed, based on the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, reinstating the award. At common law, a person cannot settle his estate in trust for his own benefit so as to be free from liability for his debts. The fact that the Act specifies certain instances in which transfers can be considered fraudulent does not mean that the statute abrogates the common law rule. View "Rush Univ. Med. Ctr. v. Sessions" on Justia Law