Supreme Court Summaries


Opinions filed March 21, 2013

 

 

DeHart v. DeHart, 2013 IL 114137

Appellate citation: 2012 IL App (3d) 090773.

 

      JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

      Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Garman, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

 

      This inheritance dispute is before the Illinois Supreme Court at the pleading stage. There has been no trial.

      Donald DeHart died in February of 2007 at age 84. In April of that year, his will dated December 4, 2006, was admitted to probate in the circuit court of Will County. The woman he had married one year prior to execution of that will, Blanca, the defendant here, was named as executor.

      The plaintiff in this case is James Thomas DeHart, who had been held out by the decedent as decedent’s biological son throughout decedent’s life. Plaintiff sued Blanca both in her individual capacity and as executor, contesting the will and alleging lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, fraudulent inducement, tortious interference with economic expectancy, contract for adoption and equitable adoption. Those pleadings are at issue here. The circuit court dismissed them all with prejudice.

      The complaint alleged, among other things, that Blanca had acted so as to persuade the decedent to alter his will to provide exclusively for her, as opposed to the plaintiff, who would otherwise inherit either as next of kin or, alternatively, as specifically stated in a prior will which allegedly had made bequests to plaintiff and his children and the original of which was allegedly in the control of Blanca, who allegedly was preventing it from surfacing or had destroyed it.

      Plaintiff’s mother, Virginia, who had married decedent in the 1940s, had died in 2001, suffering from early onset dementia. Just before this, in 2000, plaintiff had learned from decedent that plaintiff was not decedent’s biological son, but had been born to Virginia and another man, who later abandoned both her and her child. Virginia then married decedent. The decedent had told plaintiff that an adoption had taken place, but had been kept a secret. There is no legal documentation of an adoption in the record.

      The disputed will states, “I am married to Blanca DeHart. I have no children.” Plaintiff in his pleadings cites this as evidence of decedent’s unsound mind at the time. Plaintiff also alleged that, during decedent’s brief marriage to Blanca, she became joint tenant with decedent 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 significant control over his real estate dealings and sale of the family farm.

      Plaintiff had sought to compel the deposition testimony of the attorney who prepared the disputed 2006 will, but, in dismissing the complaint, the trial court also denied this request. The appellate court reversed the circuit court and the defendant Blanca appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

      The supreme court said that the well-pled facts of the complaint must be taken as true in determining whether the sufficient facts have been alleged to state a cause of action on each count. The court held 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. These counts should not have been dismissed. As to the two tort claims of fraud in the inducement and tortious interference with economic or testamentary expectancy, their dismissal was premature, and the appellate court, in reversing, properly so held. As to plaintiff’s motion to compel deposition of the attorney who drafted the disputed will, this motion should not have been denied and the appellate court acted properly in remanding for an evidentiary hearing on the matter.

      The appellate court was affirmed and further proceedings are to take place in the circuit court.