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In re Estate of Teall

March 29, 2002


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 97 P 10597 Honorable James W. Kennedy, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cahill.


Plaintiff, Anne Neitzel, filed a claim against the estate of Hazel Teall for personal services from 1986 until Teall's death in 1997. The administrator of Teall's estate brought a citation to recover assets against plaintiff to recover funds in joint bank accounts that passed to plaintiff at Teall's death. The trial court ruled that $136,000 from the joint bank accounts, as well as $25,000 in checks payable to cash written on the accounts by plaintiff, belonged to the estate. But the court then awarded plaintiff $231,920 on her claim for personal services. Both parties appealed.

Plaintiff argues on appeal that the trial court erred in admitting a letter written by Teall's physician and in finding that the joint bank accounts were convenience accounts. The administrator argues that a part of plaintiff's claim was barred by the statute of limitations and that the evidence is insufficient to support her claim.

Plaintiff moved into the house next door to Hazel Teall in 1959. Mrs. Teall lived with her husband, Charles, until his death in 1970. The Tealls had no children, and Mrs. Teall's only brother died in 1972.

In April 1986, Neitzel and Richard Jones, another neighbor, found Teall lying on the kitchen floor of Teall's house. She had fallen from a ladder days earlier. Neitzel called an ambulance and Teall was taken to the hospital. Neitzel saw that the house was infested by mice and ants. While Teall was in the hospital, Neitzel cleaned Teall's house. She hired a pest control company and had Teall's rotted blinds replaced. Neitzel also consulted an attorney who drafted a power of attorney. Teall signed the power of attorney, naming Neitzel as her agent. Teall signed the document in the presence of Neitzel, Jones and two other witnesses.

Teall spent a month in a nursing home before returning home. Neitzel then began to care for her. Neitzel helped with dressing and bathing Teall, cooking, cleaning, shopping, driving, yard work and other home chores. Neitzel also paid Teall's bills and deposited her stock dividend checks. Neitzel did not keep track of her hours, but she was "on call" 24 hours a day.

John Hirn, a home health agency consultant, testified to the value of services provided by a caregiver without formal training. In 1986, she would have received $4.50 to $5 an hour; at the time of trial, she would receive $8 an hour. A caregiver would also earn an extra $100 a week for being on call, as well as "time and a half" for weekends. A companion caregiver to a nursing home resident would receive hourly pay that included time for travel to and from the nursing home, visiting and running errands. Hirn testified that the financial services Neitzel provided Teall were worth "far more than minimum wage."

Genevieve Mavigliano testified that she worked for Medical Personnel Pool and was hired by Neitzel in 1992 to provide companionship to Teall. Mavigliano worked five days a week, three hours a day during 1992 and 1993. She testified that Teall was "very good" mentally and was a "sharp cookie for her old age."

Neitzel testified that she and Teall never discussed payment for Neitzel's services. Neitzel testified, "I just took care of her like she was a family member without expecting payment." She thought "at some point in the future" she would be paid, but she never wrote herself a check from Teall's accounts as payment for her services and never wrote a check to cash for herself. Neitzel could not explain how several checks written to cash and endorsed by her were spent. Neitzel knew she would receive the proceeds from the joint accounts when Teall died, but did not see them as payment for her services. Richard Jones testified that Teall told him she benefitted from Neitzel's care and that Neitzel should be rewarded for her work.

In 1988, Neitzel petitioned the Illinois Department of Revenue to waive penalties assessed against Teall for Teall's failure to file timely tax returns. Neitzel requested a letter to support her tax petition from one of Teall's doctors, Dr. David Fishman. Dr. Fishman wrote a letter on June 6, 1988, stating that he treated Teall in 1986 and diagnosed her as having "syncope, dehydration and acute decompensation of organic brain syndrome."

Eric Matlin, an attorney, testified that Neitzel brought Teall to him in 1992 to discuss Teall's estate plan. Matlin did not prepare any documents for Teall because he "did not think she exhibited proper dispositive intent." Matlin testified that, when asked who she wanted to leave her money to, Teall gave the names of people who had already died.

Teall was admitted to a nursing home in April 1993. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Nursing home records show that Teall was unable to make financial or health care decisions, had poor memory and was often disoriented. Neitzel testified that she visited Teall almost every day, participated in health care decisions with nursing home staff, ran errands for her and took her on outings. Nursing home records show that Neitzel visited and took Teall shopping, to the beauty shop and out to dinner. She attended care plan conferences and family meetings. She also approved health care decisions by telephone.

The first joint bank account was opened by Neitzel while Teall was in the nursing home after her fall in May 1986. Teall signed signature cards for several other accounts while she was in the nursing home. Neitzel testified that Teall only went to the bank once or twice. Other joint accounts were created during the years Neitzel held power of attorney. All statements and other banking correspondence were sent to Neitzel's address. Neitzel testified that she never discussed with Teall whether the ...

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