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In Re Estate of Ragen





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ROBERT C. SPRINGSGUTH, Judge, presiding.


Respondents, the co-executors and legatees of the estate of James M. Ragen, Jr., appeal from an order of the circuit court of Cook County which amended heirship in Ragen's estate to include petitioner, Ray-Chuen Chang, as the daughter of Ragen and co-petitioner, Yu-Wei Chang. On appeal, respondents contend that: (1) the trial court applied the wrong standard of proof in weighing the evidence; (2) the testimony of Ragen's former attorney was improperly allowed; and (3) the trial court erred in refusing to direct petitioners to submit to blood tests. We reverse and remand. The pertinent facts follow.

Ragen had been married once in his lifetime, the marriage ending in divorce after 17 years and two children. Ragen traveled extensively and had frequently lived abroad. He died in a hospital in Singapore in October 1973 and left a will which was admitted to probate in Cook County on September 17, 1974. Ragen left the major portion of his estate to fund a charitable trust established in the will and made smaller bequests to his brothers and sisters. The will made no mention of any children.

In their petition to amend heirship, petitioners alleged, inter alia, that Ragen and Yu-Wei Chang had entered into a common law marriage in Taipei, Taiwan, which resulted in the birth of Ray-Chuen Chang on September 28, 1969. Petitioners further alleged that Ragen had repeatedly acknowledged Ray-Chuen as his daughter, and that acknowledgment had been memorialized in certain decrees of the Taipei District Court and the Taiwan High Court.

Stephen Chang, an attorney who had represented Ragen in Taiwan, testified for petitioners. Chang is licensed to practice law in Taiwan and in Washington, D.C., and had first met Ragen in the early 1960's, when Ragen was referred to Chang's firm in Taiwan. Chang was allowed to testify, over respondent's objections, to matters pertaining to his representation of Ragen in an action in which Ragen sought custody of Ray-Chuen. Acknowledgment or proof of paternity is a prerequisite to the granting of custody in Taiwan, and a letter was admitted into evidence in which Ragen acknowledged Ray-Chuen as his daughter and directed Chang to seek custody on his behalf. The letter was handwritten by Chang and signed by Ragen. Ragen lost the custody case at the trial level and he and Yu-Wei Chang settled the matter on appeal. The documents from the Taiwan courts> were also admitted into evidence. Chang further testified that, in accordance with Chinese law, Yu-Wei had appointed him guardian of Ray-Chuen in the heirship proceedings and that Chang's Washington, D.C., law firm was co-counsel for petitioners in the instant case.

During 1969, prior to Ray-Chuen's birth, Chang had frequently visited Ragen's home during the day, and Yu-Wei was present at each visit. Chang also testified that, after Ray-Chuen's birth in September 1969, Ragen often referred to her as his daughter. Yu-Wei did not live with Ragen between 1971 and 1972. In 1974, after Ragen's death, Chang had received a cable from an attorney for Ragen's estate asking that Chang send him a certified copy of the household registration from the Taiwanese census bureau. Ragen was not shown as Ray-Chuen's father on the registration, and Chang sent an associate to record Ragen's paternity on the registration. The household registration was admitted into evidence and shows that Ragen's name was added on July 17, 1974, and states that Ragen had acknowledged Ray-Chuen in Taiwanese court proceedings. The amended household registration was then sent to the attorney for Ragen's estate.

Yu-Wei Chang testified through an interpreter that she is Ray-Chuen's mother and currently lives in Tokyo, Japan, with her husband while Ray-Chuen lives in Taiwan with Yu-Wei's mother. Yu-Wei and Ragen were living together when Ray-Chuen was born and Yu-Wei had no sexual relations with anyone else while she and Ragen lived together. Yu-Wei had met Ragen in 1967 in the living room of his hotel suite at the Taiwan Hotel. Yu-Wei had never been to the hotel before and was with friends when they went to visit Ragen. Yu-Wei was 20 years old at the time and was unemployed and living with her parents. She and Ragen began living together several weeks after they met.

Yu-Wei's mother lived with her and Ragen at the time of Ray-Chuen's birth in 1969. When Ray-Chuen was born, Ragen visited her at the hospital and paid all of the hospital and medical bills. Ray-Chuen's birth certificate, which was admitted into evidence, did not contain the name of her father. Yu-Wei testified that she did nothing regarding Ray-Chuen's birth record and that her mother had provided the information for it. According to Yu-Wei, her mother knew that Ragen was Ray-Chuen's father and lived with the three of them until Yu-Wei moved out of Ragen's house in September or October of 1971. Yu-Wei returned to Ragen around Christmas in 1972, and they lived together until Ragen went to Singapore in August 1973.

The discovery deposition of Virginia E. Ragen, Ragen's sister and a co-executor of his estate, was allowed as evidence. In it, Ms. Ragen stated that Ragen had mentioned that Ray-Chuen was his daughter.

Stephen Chang was called as the first witness for respondents and testified that his Taiwan office had begun representing Yu-Wei in 1977. A letter from Chang to Ragen was admitted into evidence in which Chang referred to proceedings to change Ray-Chuen's name, but Chang admitted that Ragen had never asked him to begin such proceedings and that he was merely acting pursuant to the acknowledgment and settlement in the Taiwan custody action. In that action Ragen had also offered Yu-Wei $2500 to release her claim on the house in which they lived. Chang also testified that he never discussed a will with Ragen.

Chang testified at some length regarding Taiwanese household registration procedures in general and Yu-Wei's registrations in particular. The household registrations indicated that Yu-Wei had "moved out to" Ragen's address from her family's home on April 19, 1971, but Chang stated that the date reflects the date of recording rather than the date of the actual move. The registrations showed Yu-Wei as head of the household and Ray-Chuen as her daughter but made no mention of Ragen, either as Ray-Chuen's father or as a member of the household. Chang explained that Ragen, as an alien, could not be shown as a member of the household but that his name could appear elsewhere in the registration document. Because Ray-Chuen's birth certificate was the basis for her inclusion in the registration, if the name of her father hadn't appeared on the birth certificate it would not appear in the household registration. Chang explained further that anyone may file information in a household registration and the information therefore may not be correct. He also added that not all entries on the registrations are dated.

Respondents also called Yu-Wei to testify regarding the household registrations. She stated that she did not know who had provided all of the information for them, but that her mother had taken care of some of it and that she herself had given other information to a policeman.

Robert Ragen, a brother of the decedent, testified that he last saw his brother in the hospital in Singapore in October 1973. Robert Ragen had arrived there in September and stayed for 18 days, until his brother's death, during which time he visited Ragen 12 to 14 hours each day. In the course of those visits, the decedent had told his brother of Yu-Wei and Ray-Chuen. He did not claim Ray-Chuen as his daughter, however, but had merely stated that he had befriended Yu-Wei's daughter.

Dr. Joseph Tanous, who had known Ragen since 1948 and had lived with him in France for 10 years, testified that he arrived in Singapore on September 15, 1973, and visited Ragen frequently until Ragen's death the following month. Ragen conducted business from his hospital bed and mentioned many other personal matters. Ragen had detailed discussions with Dr. Tanous about both his will and Ray-Chuen. Ragen had told Dr. Tanous that the house in Taiwan was for Ray-Chuen and that, although Ray-Chuen was not his daughter, he had sought custody because he considered her mother to be unfit. Dr. Tanous also stated that in saying that Ray-Chuen was not his daughter, Ragen had recalled the opinion received from a doctor in Paris while Ragen and Dr. Tanous lived there, that Ragen could ...

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