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In Re Estate of Osborn

OPINION FILED OCTOBER 16, 1984.

IN RE ESTATE OF WINIFRED W. OSBORN, DECEASED (LUCILLE KREBS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

THOMAS F. TAYLOR ET AL., EXECUTORS OF THE ESTATE OF WINIFRED W. OSBORN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Clinton County; the Hon. William R. Todd, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE JONES DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, Lucille Krebs, filed a complaint to contest the will of her sister, Winifred Osborn, the decedent, in which she alleged undue influence on the part of the Catholic Diocese of Belleville (Diocese), the primary beneficiary under the decedent's will. The plaintiff's third amended complaint was dismissed by the trial court, and the plaintiff has appealed from that dismissal. We affirm.

Following the decedent's death on January 2, 1982, her will, dated January 24, 1975, and a codicil to that will, dated October 24, 1980, were admitted to probate. The plaintiff filed suit to contest the validity of the will, and, upon motion by the Diocese, the court dismissed the plaintiff's complaint and amended complaints for failure to allege sufficient facts to set forth a cause of action for undue influence. The plaintiff's third amended complaint, upon which she has elected to stand, alleged in pertinent part:

"3. Defendants, the CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF BELLEVILLE, by and through their agents and employees, served in a confidential relationship to the decedent as religious and spiritual advisor to the decedent and in that capacity dominated the Will [sic] of the decedent and influenced the decedent unduly in that in one or more of the following respects:

A. Bestowed unusual gifts and favors upon the decedent.

B. Visited the decedent at least twice a year by members of the Chancery Office and the Bishop of the Diocese of Belleville. Such visits were extraordinary as opposed to the other members of the congregation of the Diocese.

C. Knew the decedent did not have issue or surviving spouse for whom to give her property to.

D. Knew that the decedent was dependent upon the Clergy as her means of social outlet.

E. Used the decedent's dependency upon the Clergy for a social outlet for the decedent to patronize the decedent with the expectation of receiving substantial gifts under decedent's Will.

F. That knowing that the decedent held high esteem for the members of the Clergy of the Diocese of Belleville, the agents of the Diocese of Belleville thereupon utilizing this situation were able to influence the decedent under the bequest of the decedent made in her Will.

4. That as a direct and proximate result of the acts set forth in paragraph 3, and because of the dependency of the decedent upon the Defendant, the CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF BELLEVILLE, by and through its agents, dominated the decedent and entered upon the influence of the Defendant.

5. The Last Will and Testament and codicil of the decedent was procured by and in favor of the Defendant, the CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF BELLEVILLE, through the use of their confidential relationship and by the CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF BELLEVILLE giving extraordinary recognition and personal attention to the decedent and because of her dependency for such attention and recognition, she was deprived of her free agency in the making of said purported Will and Codicil and was wrongfully induced to make the same."

At issue on appeal from the judgment dismissing this complaint is whether the complaint set forth sufficient facts to state a cause of action against the defendant for the exercise of undue influence in procuring the will of the decedent. It is well settled that, in a will contest action, it is not sufficient to allege merely a conclusion that a party exercised undue influence over the decedent. Rather, facts must be stated in the complaint which, if proved, would warrant such a conclusion. (Ryan v. Deneen (1940), 375 Ill. 452, 31 N.E.2d 582.) As expressed in Sterling v. Kramer (1957), 15 Ill. App.2d 230, 234, 145 N.E.2d 757, 759,

"the general rule in Illinois [is] that the pleading of undue influence in a will contest must contain a specific recital of the manner in which the free will of the testator was impaired at the time the instrument was executed. A mere conclusion that the testator was influenced by the ...


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