Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 97--P--182 Honorable Robert E. Byrne, Judge, Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Geiger
This consolidated appeal arises out of the June 23, 1999, order of the circuit court of Du Page County approving a settlement entered into between W. Thomas Powell, as administrator of the estate of Anthony G. Cappetta, deceased (administrator), and several members of the decedent's family. Under the terms of the settlement, the decedent's estate was to receive payment in the amount of $1.7 million from the decedent's wife, Loretta Cappetta, in return for the dismissal of certain fraudulent transfer actions that the administrator had filed against several members of the decedent's family. On appeal, several claimants of the decedent's estate argue that the trial court erred in approving the settlement and in classifying their claims as seventh-class claims under section 18--10 of the Probate Act of 1975 (Probate Act) (755 ILCS 5/18--10 (West 1998)).
We address the latter issue in the nonpublished portion of the opinion.
The decedent, Anthony G. Cappetta, was an attorney and an undertaker. He died testate on January 27, 1997. He was survived by his wife, Loretta Cappetta, and three children. One of these children, Loretta Popelka, was born during the decedent's marriage to Loretta Cappetta. The other two children, Anthony P. Cappetta and Marie Wlosinski, were born during the decedent's prior marriage to Gilda Cappetta. Loretta Cappetta, per nomination in the decedent's will, was initially appointed executor of the estate.
After the decedent's estate was opened, more than 130 separate claimants made claims against the estate totaling between $10 million and $12 million. Many of the claimants were former clients of the decedent's law practice who had given their money to the decedent for him to invest with an entity known as Bell Associates. Unknown to these claimants, there was no such entity known as Bell Associates and the decedent simply deposited these sums into his escrow account. The other claimants consisted of various decedents' and minors' estates that had retained the decedent to handle their affairs. These claimants asserted that the decedent stole assets belonging to the estates.
Ten of these claimants are of particular relevance to the instant appeal. These claimants are as follows:
Robert Sperl, as Executor of the $1,084,231
Celeste and Thomas Reet 204,631
Michalene Mikrut and Theresa Mudjen, as 675,568
Co-Executors of the Estate of Theodore
Michael Gratace, as Guardian of the Estates
of Phillina Gratace and Michael Gratace, Jr. 166,141
Michael Gratace, individually 70,169
The beneficiaries of the estate of Rose Denny included two charitable organizations, the Salvation Army and Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children (Shriners Hospital).
In March 1997, claimants Marjorie Haag, Celeste Reet, and Thomas Reet filed a petition to terminate Loretta Cappetta's independent administration and to remove her as the executor of the decedent's estate. The petition alleged that Loretta Cappetta had a conflict of interest "in that she may have benefitted from, or have been involved with, these investments of her husband" and that all of the Cappetta "family members may have the same conflict of interest." On April 25, 1997, the trial court granted the petition to terminate the independent administration of the estate and ordered that further administration be supervised. The trial court removed Loretta Cappetta as executor and appointed W. Thomas Powell as administrator.
On April 25, 1997, the trial court entered an order freezing the assets of the estate and requiring Loretta Cappetta to file an accounting. Loretta Cappetta subsequently filed an inventory showing that the value of the decedent's personal estate was $172,000 on the date of his death. Loretta Cappetta also filed an accounting detailing her personal disbursements for the nine-month period between October 1, 1997, and June 30, 1998. This accounting indicated that her total disbursements exceeded $160,000.
Discovery also revealed that Loretta Cappetta was the beneficiary of approximately $3.5 million in life insurance from 18 different policies on the life of the decedent. As a result of the decedent's death, Loretta Cappetta also became the sole owner of her Oak Brook residence, which was appraised at $975,000. Loretta Cappetta also owns a 60% interest in the Cappetta Funeral Home, which she had jointly held with the decedent prior to his death.
On July 29, 1997, the administrator filed a petition requesting permission to hire an attorney and an accountant to perform an analysis of the decedent's escrow account. The administrator alleged that such an analysis was necessary in order to account for the discrepancy between the amount of the claims filed and the purported value of the estate's assets as reported by Loretta Cappetta. The administrator further alleged that the decedent had received "large sums of money" from numerous creditors of the estate and that, because the balance in the decedent's escrow account was less than $50,000 at the time of his death, it appeared that some funds contained in the escrow account had been used "to pay for non-probate ...