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In re Estate of Miller

October 2, 2002

IN RE ESTATE OF LOUIS J. MILLER, DECEASED
(THOMAS MILLER, SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF LOUIS J. MILLER, PETITIONER-APPELLEE AND CROSS-APPELLANT,
v.
EMMA FORD, STEVE FORD, SHERRI FORD, MARK FORD, RONNA MARTIN, SCOTT FORD, AND ANTHONY FORD, RESPONDENTS-APPELLANTS AND CROSS-APPELLEES, (ALBERT MILLER, INTERESTED PERSON-APPELLEE AND CROSS-APPELLEE)).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Perry County. No. 97-P-21 Honorable William A. Schuwerk, Jr., Judge, presiding.

Justices: Honorable Richard P. Goldenhersh, J. Honorable Gordon E. Maag, P.J., and Honorable Thomas M. Welch, J., Concur

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Goldenhersh

Emma Ford, Steve Ford, Sherri Ford, Mark Ford, Ronna Martin, Scott Ford, and Anthony Ford (collectively respondents) appeal an order of the circuit court of Perry County requiring them to return funds to the estate of Louis J. Miller and to Albert Miller. Thomas Miller (petitioner), as the special administrator of the estate of Louis Miller, filed a cross-appeal for funds that Emma Ford was allowed to retain. Albert Miller filed a brief as an interested person for funds that the court determined were his personal property. This appeal raises the following issues: (1) whether the court erred in requiring respondents to return proceeds from certificates of deposit that had been held by Louis Miller individually, (2) whether the court erred in requiring respondents to return proceeds from checking accounts that had been held by Louis Miller, (3) whether the court erred in allowing Emma Ford to retain the proceeds from certificates of deposit she had held jointly with Louis Miller, (4) whether the trial court had jurisdiction to award funds to Albert Miller, and (5) whether the trial court erred in failing to award prejudgment interest. We affirm.

I. FACTS

On March 27, 1996, Louis Miller, at the age of 86 years old, signed a form giving his youngest sister, Emma Ford, a power of attorney pursuant to the Statutory Short Form Power of Attorney for Property Law (755 ILCS 45/3-1 et seq. (West 1996)). Between that date and Miller's demise a year later, numerous transactions occurred which benefited Emma Ford.

On March 29, 1996, Emma Ford's name was added to Louis Miller's checking account at DuQuoin National Bank. On April 3, 1996, Emma Ford inspected Louis Miller's security deposit box. In the lockbox, she found several certificates of deposit and Louis Miller's last will and testament. The certificates of deposit were held separately in Louis Miller's individual name, the joint names of Louis Miller and Albert Miller, the joint names of Louis Miller and Emma Ford, and the joint names of Louis Miller and Clara Hottes. On April 25, 1996, she redeemed a certificate of deposit that had been held jointly in the names of Emma Ford and Louis Miller for $10,000, and she deposited the proceeds in her personal account.

In early May 1996, Louis Miller was discharged from the nursing home and came to live at Emma Ford's home. On May 9, 1996, Emma Ford used her power of attorney to surrender four certificates of deposit that had been held by Louis Miller individually. She deposited the proceeds of these certificates in an account at DuQuoin State Bank in her name and the name of her son, Steve Ford. She then distributed four checks from the account, each in the amount of $10,000, to Steve, to her daughter-in-law Sherri Ford, and to Emma's grandchildren, Mark Ford and Anthony Ford. On May 28, 1996, Emma Ford redeemed a certificate of deposit that had been held in the names of Louis Miller and Emma Ford jointly. The proceeds of the certificate were distributed to Emma's grandchildren Ronna Martin and Scott Ford, in the amount of $5,000 each.

In June 1996, Emma Ford redeemed a certificate that had been held in the joint names of Emma Ford and Louis Miller for $10,086.87. She then distributed $5,000 each to Ronna Martin and Scott Ford and retained the remainder.

On July 17, 1996, Emma Ford delivered to Citizens Bank in Du Quoin a signature card signed by her and Louis Miller. The signature card added her name to a checking account at that bank. After Miller's death, she closed this account and received $32,502.80. On July 26, 1996, she delivered a deposit agreement signed by her and Miller adding her name to Miller's checking account at First National Bank of Pinckneyville. After Miller's death, she closed the account and received $48,498.89. On August 1, 1996, she delivered to Murphy-Wall State Bank & Trust Co. (Murphy-Wall Bank) a new signature card signed by both herself and Miller. After Miller's death, she closed this account and received $19,725.62.

On September 4, 1996, Emma Ford redeemed a certificate of deposit held in her and Louis Miller's names at First National Bank of Pinckneyville for $10,156.85. On December 13, 1996, she directed DuQuoin State Bank to reissue a certificate that had previously been held in her name and Miller's. She had the bank delete Miller's name from the new certificate and had it reissued in her name and the names of her two sons. The certificate was valued at $10,020.50.

Between January 6, 1997, and January 27, 1997, using her power of attorney, Emma Ford surrendered six certificates of deposit held in the joint names of Louis Miller and Albert Miller. The proceeds of these certificates totaled $60,063.54. On February 10, 1997, she surrendered a certificate of deposit at Charter Bank for $9,904.19 that had been held in Louis Miller's name only.

On March 19, 1997, Emma Ford surrendered for payment a certificate held at Charter Bank in the name of "Louis Joe Miller, Trustee for Albert J. Miller." She endorsed the certificate using her power of attorney for Louis Miller, and she received $20,238.40.

On March 26, 1997, she surrendered three certificates of deposit at Murphy-Wall Bank. The certificates were held in Louis Miller's individual name. These certificates were endorsed by Emma Ford as Miller's attorney-in-fact, and she received $30,190.65.

Louis Miller died on March 27, 1997. In April 1997, a petition for probate of will and for letters of testamentary was filed, and an order admitting the will to probate and appointing Emma Ford as the representative of the estate was entered. A notice that the will had been admitted to probate was sent to the heirs and legatees. Clara Hottes, Albert Miller, and petitioner filed a petition to terminate the independent administration and a petition for a citation on behalf of the estate and for the appointment of a special administrator. The independent administration was terminated on July 23, 1998, and Thomas Miller was appointed the special administrator. On January 20, 2000, petitioner, as the special administrator, filed a petition for a citation to recover property and related relief against respondents to recover certain money pursuant to the Probate Act of 1975 (Act) (755 ILCS 5/16-3 (West 1998)).

A bench trial was held on August 4, 2000. At the hearing, Emma Ford testified that in private conversations, Louis Miller had stated that he wanted her to have the certificates and his funds. Emma Ford admitted that she did not disclose the transfers to other members of Louis Miller's family.

Louis Miller's attorney, Roger Seibert, testified that he had consulted with Miller about Miller's estate plan and had prepared Miller's will. Seibert testified that, as a part of his estate plan, Miller had established a number of joint accounts in order to avoid probate. He testified that Miller intended for several relatives to benefit from his estate but that he was primarily concerned about Emma Ford. Seibert testified that the transactions made by Emma Ford were consistent with his perception of Miller's concern for her and his desire to avoid probate.

After the proceedings, the court entered an order finding, in part as follows:

"(3) That a fiduciary relationship existed between Louis Miller and the respondent, Emma Ford, from March 27, 1996, until Louis Miller's death. That the transfers made by Emma Ford between March 27, 1996, and March 27, 1997, are presumed to be fraudulent since Emma Ford and her family profited from said transactions.

(4) That Emma Ford failed to produce clear and convincing evidence to this Court that the challenged transactions were, in fact, gifts to herself and her family.

(5) That equity require[s] that Emma Ford, the estate of Louis Miller[,] and Albert Miller should be returned to the financial status prior to March 27, 1996."

The trial court ordered Steve Ford, Anthony Ford, Mark Ford, and Sherri Ford to pay back sums of $10,000 each to the estate for benefits they received in May 1996. Ronna Martin and Scott Ford were each ordered to pay back $5,000 to the estate in regard to the certificate of deposit surrendered on June 16, 1996. Emma Ford was ...


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