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In Re Estate of Wright

MAY 7, 1964.




Appeal from the Probate Court of Cook County; the Hon. HOWARD C. RYAN, Judge, presiding. Order and judgment reversed and cause remanded with directions.


Rehearing denied June 1, 1964.

This is an appeal from an order entered by the Probate Court of Cook County in a citation proceeding brought by Lewis B. Wright and Edwin Wright to compel respondent, Grace J. Blake, to turn over to the executor of the estate of Florine E. Wright the proceeds from the sale of property at 1322 Felicity Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, which allegedly belong to said estate and which are presently in the possession and control of respondent. The order appealed from entered judgment in favor of the executor and against the respondent for $26,000, the amount received by respondent pursuant to a document entitled "Act of Donation" executed by the decedent, and for costs in the citation proceeding.

The petitioners are nephews by affinity of the deceased, Florine Wright. Neither the petitioners nor the respondent are blood relatives of the deceased, Florine Wright.

The pertinent facts brought out on trial are as follows:

Decedent, Florine Wright, was married to one Gustin Wright. They resided at the above mentioned Felicity Street address in New Orleans for the ten years immediately preceding Gustin's death on November 5, 1956. Grace Blake visited them in New Orleans about eight times, each visit being of some duration. She was preparing Gustin's memoirs and carrying on correspondence for him. When Gustin died Grace Blake flew to New Orleans to be with Florine Wright. When she arrived Ben Eastwood, a friend of the Wrights, was making the burial arrangements, and she phoned Edwin Wright so that he might make some changes in said arrangements in order to more nearly coincide with the wishes of the deceased.

Grace Blake, in an attempt to aid in the settling of Gustin's estate tried unsuccessfully to reach one Cabrall, the attorney who had drawn Gustin's will. On advice of friends she contacted one Dudley Phillips, an attorney, who procured the will from Mr. Cabrall. The will left the entire estate to Florine. With the aid of attorney Phillips, the estate was settled by putting Florine in simple possession, a probate device used in Louisiana to avoid the expense of administration.

Arrangements were made for Florine to stay with friends in New Orleans. During this period following Gustin's death attorney Phillips saw Florine on an average of once a week and advised her concerning matters such as how to handle her property and keep records of her income and disbursements. He also discussed the drawing of a will for her. Petitioner, Edwin Wright, a nephew of the deceased Gustin Wright, flew down to New Orleans to look over the situation personally. He arrived one day and left the next. While he was there, Florine presented him with a ring that had been given to her husband by the Queen of Roumania. Subsequent to Edwin's visit, attorney Phillips drew up a will for Florine leaving the bulk of her estate to Edwin and his brother Lewis Wright, the petitioners herein. As Florine was not versed in business matters, Mr. Phillips was given a general power of attorney to handle her affairs.

Arrangements were made for Florine to visit petitioners and their mother, Constance Wright, in Saginaw, Michigan. Florine and Grace Blake left New Orleans in mid-December, 1956, and proceeded to Grace Blake's daughter's home in Chicago. Constance Wright, the mother of the petitioners, drove into Chicago from Saginaw and picked up Florine to take her back home for a visit.

In April of 1957 Edwin Wright wrote to Grace Blake and told her that Florine had decided to stay with Constance Wright in Saginaw, Michigan. He was upset with the way attorney Phillips had been handling Florine's affairs, and, although he stated that he thought Mr. Phillips was trustworthy, he took Florine to an attorney at the Detroit Bank (allegedly at Florine's insistence) and had him revoke attorney Phillips' general power of attorney and make out a limited power that would give Mr. Phillips authority to handle her property located in New Orleans. In this letter he suggested that the Felicity Street property be sold, saying, "Florine was talking of selling her house long before these other matters came up so I am sure she would be agreeable to this." While she was staying in Michigan, Florine was also taken to see another lawyer, a Mr. Sherrard, whom she consulted regarding the drafting of a new will.

On May 1, 1957 Grace Blake arrived unannounced at the home of Constance Wright in Saginaw. Constance stated that she and Florine were engaged in a search for some jewelry which Florine had mislaid. Grace took Florine to lunch and at about 1:00 p.m. she phoned Constance from the restaurant and stated, "I am going to take Florine to Chicago." She did this without stopping to pick up any of Florine's things, and the next day Constance and Edwin Wright arrived at the Chicago residence of Grace Blake's daughter, but were refused admission. Apparently Florine thought that Constance Wright had stolen her jewelry, because while Constance and Edwin Wright were trying to gain admission Florine said, "They are thaves (French pronunciation). They took my jewels." A short time later, Constance Wright found Florine's jewelry in a dresser drawer in Constance's home in Saginaw. She then consulted Joseph Sherrard, the attorney Florine had seen regarding the drafting of a new will, and on his advice, she placed the jewelry in a safety deposit box, and after Florine died, she sent the jewelry to Florine's executor.

On the second or third of May, Grace Blake and Florine Wright left by train for New Orleans. On Monday, May 6, 1957, Florine saw attorney Phillips and had him draw a "revocation" revoking any "procurations" of power of attorney she may have given while in Michigan. Thereafter, on July 1, 1957, Florine gave Grace Blake a general power of attorney to convey real estate, and on July 24 gave her a power to sign checks on her account. On October 11, 1957 the sale of the Felicity Street property was consummated, and the proceeds of the sale were deposited in Florine Wright's account. On the same day an instrument entitled "Act of Donation" was executed by Florine at the office of attorney Phillips in New Orleans, Louisiana. Said "Act of Donation" reads as follows:


By: Mrs. Florine G. Wright To: Mrs. Grace Blake United States of America State of ...

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