Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 93--CH--0465. Honorable Bonnie M. Wheaton, Judge, Presiding.
Released for Publication April 7, 1997.
The Honorable Justice McLAREN delivered the opinion of the court. Inglis and Doyle, JJ., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mclaren
JUSTICE McLAREN delivered the opinion of the court:
On February 17, 1987, Laura Bertha Catherine Peters Warner executed a revocable trust. The trust identifies five beneficiaries: defendant and counterplaintiff, Philip B. Peters, Gayle Peters Emerson, Vincent P. Peters, Stuart Davis Peters, and "Mary Beverly Peters." In particular, the trust identifies "Mary Beverly Peters, Rt. 4, Box 160, Spotsylvania, Va. 22553." The instrument creating the trust names the plaintiff, Trustees of Wheaton College (trustee), as the trustee. Ron Walton, a planned-giving officer of Wheaton College, assisted Warner in the planning of her estate.
Of the five beneficiaries named, only the "Mary Beverly Peters" beneficiary designation is at dispute in this case. Notwithstanding "Mary Beverly Peters," every other named beneficiary is either Warner's niece or nephew, or a child of a niece or a nephew who predeceased Warner. Defendant and counterplaintiff, Mary Beaumont Peters (Peters), is Warner's niece. Defendant and counterdefendant, Mary Beverley Peters Hunton (Hunton), is the daughter of Warner's nephew, defendant and counterplaintiff, Philip Peters.
Philip Peters is Mary Beaumont Peters' brother and guardian. Peters has been physically and mentally handicapped since childhood. Peters has identified herself as Mary Beaumont Peters and Mary B. Peters since the date of her birth, February 19, 1929. Further, from 1967 until March 1988, Peters lived at Route 4, Spotsylvania, Virginia. Between 1967 and April 1986 her mailing address was Box 160; although she did not change residences, sometime between April 1986 and April 1987, her mailing address was changed to Box 1360.
Hunton, born March 19, 1949, is the daughter of Philip Peters. At birth, Hunton was given the name Mary Beverley Peters. However, she has not identified herself as such since 1974, when she married. Since 1974, she has used the names "Mary Beverley Peters Hunton," "Mary Peters Hunton," and "Mary P. Hunton." Further, Hunton never lived in Spotsylvania, Virginia, and has never claimed Route 4, Box 160, Spotsylvania, Virginia, as her home or address. In addition, Hunton had no contact with Warner after September 1974, the date of her marriage.
After Warner's death, David Teune, a lawyer for the trustee, wrote Eppa Hunton, Hunton's husband, who was serving as counsel for certain beneficiaries of the trust. Mary Hunton later retained new counsel. The trustee's lawyer asked Eppa Hunton for the social security numbers of the named beneficiaries, including "Mary Beverly Peters." Eppa Hunton responded with a letter, which provided in part:
"In the trust agreement, one of the beneficiaries is named Mary Beverly Peters. However, it is my belief that the intended beneficiary is Mary Beaumont Peters. The latter is a sister of Philip[,] Gayle and Peyton Peters.
Mary Beverley Peters is the daughter of Philip Peters. Incidentally, Mary Beverley Peters is my wife. Mary Beaumont Peters formerly lived at Rt. 4, Box 160[,] Spotsylvania and then moved to Richmond. Mary Beverley Peters never lived in Spotsylvania.
It would be 'normal' for [Warner] to have divided the trust into four shares for the four children of her brother who were living or left living heirs. By leaving 1/4 interest to Mary Beaumont Peters and not Mary Beverley Peters, that pattern is maintained."
On December 8, 1992, Teune responded to Eppa Hunton's letter, stating that the trustee also believed the intended beneficiary to be Peters and not Hunton. In the letter, Teune asked Eppa Hunton to obtain his wife's signature on a waiver of interest in the Warner trust.
In March 1993, Hunton, Hunton's husband, Eppa, and Hunton's father, Philip, met to discuss why Hunton had not signed the waiver of interest. In an affidavit, Philip stated that he explained to Hunton why he believed that Peters was the intended beneficiary. Philip stated that he told Hunton that Warner had a special concern for Peters. Philip also stated that he ...