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In re Estate of Lundahl

July 16, 2002

IN RE ESTATE OF JOHN R. LUNDAHL, DECEASED
(ELIZABETH GABEL, CLAIMANT-APPELLEE,
v.
THOMAS D. MURRAY, INDEPENDENT EX'R OF THE ESTATE OF JOHN R. LUNDAHL, APPELLANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. Honorable Ronald B. Mehling, Judge, Presiding. No. 00-P-713

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Bowman

Released for publication.

IN RE ESTATE OF JOHN R. LUNDAHL, DECEASED
(ELIZABETH GABEL, CLAIMANT-APPELLEE,
v.
THOMAS D. MURRAY, INDEPENDENT EX'R OF THE ESTATE OF JOHN R. LUNDAHL, APPELLANT).

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. Honorable Ronald B. Mehling, Judge, Presiding. No. 00-P-713

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Bowman

Thomas D. Murray, the independent executor of the estate of John R. Lundahl, deceased, appeals a judgment granting claimant, Elizabeth Gabel, relief against the Lundahl estate. Gabel's claim relies on a 1990 agreed order annulling Lundahl's marriage to Gabel and requiring the estate of Lundahl, who was then alive but disabled, to pay Gabel $1,700 month "for the balance of her natural life." The trial court ordered Murray to pay Gabel $1,700 monthly out of the estate as long as she lives or to purchase an equivalent annuity. Murray timely appealed.

On appeal, Murray argues that the judgment is erroneous because (1) Gabel's right to payments under the agreement ended when Lundahl died; (2) Gabel's claim is merely contingent and thus not a valid charge on the decedent's estate; (3) Gabel's claim is not ripe; and (4) recognizing Gabel's claim would keep the estate open unreasonably long. Because we agree with the first assertion, we reverse without considering Murray's other arguments.

We set out the pertinent facts. Lundahl executed a will in 1983 and a codicil in 1985. On August 22, 1988, Lundahl and Gabel were purportedly married in Florida. By 1989, Lundahl had become disabled and the court had appointed guardians for his person and his estate. That year, the plenary guardians of Lundahl's person and estate sued in Du Page County to invalidate the marriage. On June 13, 1990, the circuit court declared the marriage void, and "Lundahl and Associates" (the guardians of Lundahl's estate and person, Lundahl's two children, and the attorneys for these parties) and "Gabel and Associates" (Gabel and her attorneys) entered into the agreement on which Gabel now bases her claim. (It is helpful to keep in mind that, as Lundahl was alive at this time, the "Estate" the agreement references is not the testamentary estate that was created upon his death.)

The agreement recites that each party releases any possible claims against the other and that these mutual releases protect the "heirs, executors, *** and agents of the individuals comprising Lundahl and Associates and Gabel and Associates." (Emphasis added.) Also, part of the consideration for the mutual releases is the guardians' desire "to preserve the assets of John R. Lundahl [and] his Estate." Paragraph 6(a) reads:

"John R. Lundahl, his estate. and Keith E. Roberts as Guardian of the Estate of John R. Lundahl *** agree to pay Elizabeth L. Gabel the sum of seventeen hundred dollars per month for the balance of her natural life commencing on July 1, 1990 and the first day of each month thereafter. Said money will be in lieu of any money now being received by virtue of her alleged marital relationship with John R. Lundahl. Any and all Orders or other activities providing Elizabeth L. Gabel-Lundahl with monies by virtue of the ceremony of August 22, 1988 will be vacated and void as of said date. The Estate of John R. Lundahl *** will make no claim for monies and/or property heretofore received by Elizabeth L. Gabel by virtue of any events including but not limited to those of August 22, 1988. The Estate of John R. Lundahl reserves the right to fund any part of said lifetime payments of seventeen hundred dollars per month to Elizabeth L. Gabel by *** purchase of a life annuity contract." (Emphasis added.)

On June 12, 2000, Lundahl died. On August 4, 2000, the circuit court admitted Lundahl's will to probate and appointed Murray the independent executor of Lundahl's testamentary estate. On February 26, 2001, Gabel filed her claim. She asserted that, while he lived, Lundahl paid Gabel $1,700 per month per the 1990 agreement; that Lundahl's contract survived his death; and that Lundahl's testamentary estate owed her $1,700 per month for the rest of her life.

Murray responded with several arguments. First, Gabel's claim was not ripe because, since Lundahl died, the estate had still paid Gabel $1,700 each month, albeit under protest. Second, Gabel's claim was contingent and thus impermissible under section 18--4 of the Probate Act of 1975 (Act) (755 ILCS 5/18--4 (West 2000)), because any future payment vested only in the uncertain event that Gabel was still alive when it came due.

Murray argued third that the agreement did not entitle Gabel to any payments at all after Lundahl died. Murray reasoned that the payments were akin to maintenance. As such, they stopped at the payor's death unless the agreement plainly stated otherwise, which it did not. Murray observed in part that, under section 510(c) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (Marriage Act) (750 ILCS 5/510(c) (West 2000)), the obligation to pay future maintenance ends when either party dies, unless the parties have agreed otherwise in writing.

Gabel replied that she could file her claim even if the estate had not yet refused to pay her, that the claim was not contingent because Lundahl's contractual obligation was fixed before he died, and that the parties did agree in 1990 that Gabel would receive payments even after Lundahl died. The trial court ruled that Gabel's right to monthly payments survived Lundahl's death and that her claim was not contingent under the Act. The court ordered Murray to pay Gabel $1,700 per month from ...


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