Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 00P330 Honorable Harry E. Clem, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Appleton
Petitioners, Christopher and Craig Parr, a/k/a Snodgrass, allege they are the natural children of decedent, Marlin L. Snodgrass. Their mother, Kaye Parr, was never married to decedent. Carl E. Parr (not a party to this lawsuit) is petitioners' adoptive father. Respondent, Larry Snodgrass, is decedent's brother and the executor of his estate.
Petitioners filed an amended complaint contesting decedent's will. As executor, respondent filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that because Carl Parr had adopted petitioners, they were not decedent's children within the meaning of section 2-4(d)(1) of the Probate Act of 1975 (Probate Act) (755 ILCS 5/2-4(d)(1) (West 2000)) and they therefore lacked standing to contest decedent's will. After denying the motion for summary judgment, the trial court granted respondent's motion to certify the following question for interlocutory review pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308(a) (155 Ill. 2d R. 308(a)):
"When the mother of an illegitimate child marries someone other than the father of the child, and the spouse of the mother then adopts the illegitimate child, is the child still the child of his or her natural father for purposes of inheritance under [section 2-4(d)(1)]?"
We answer yes to the question and remand this case for further proceedings.
Decedent executed his will on January 23, 1990, and died on October 8, 2000. The will named neither of the petitioners as a beneficiary. On April 4, 2001, petitioners filed an amended complaint contesting the will, alleging they were decedent's natural children, he had lacked testamentary capacity, and the beneficiaries of the will had unduly influenced him.
On December 14, 2001, respondent filed his motion for summary judgment. In addition to affidavits averring that decedent had a sound mind and free will, respondent presented certified copies of petitioners' birth certificates as well as records of a paternity case and an adoption case from the De Witt County circuit court. According to the birth certificates, Christopher Parr was born on September 25, 1967, and Craig Parr was born on March 15, 1969, and Carl Parr was their father. In the paternity case, petitioners' mother, Kaye Pitchford (now Parr), had sought to establish that decedent was petitioners' father. The De Witt County circuit court had dismissed the case for lack of prosecution. In the adoption case, Carl Parr adopted petitioners on September 21, 1972, with decedent's consent.
On January 7, 2002, petitioners filed a response to the motion for summary judgment. As part of their response, they submitted Kaye Parr's affidavit that she was petitioners' natural mother, her grandparents were petitioners' great-grandparents, and she was married to Carl Parr when he adopted petitioners.
On April 10, 2002, the trial court denied respondent's motion for summary judgment, because if petitioners proved the averments in their mother's affidavit, they would have standing under section 2-4(d)(1) of the Probate Act. We granted respondent's petition for leave to appeal.
This appeal requires us to interpret section 2-4(d) of the Probate Act. We interpret statutes de novo--that is to say, without any deference to the trial court's interpretation. Michigan Avenue National Bank v. County of Cook, 191 Ill. 2d 493, 503, 732 N.E.2d 528, 535 (2000). When interpreting a statute, we strive to ascertain the legislature's intent. Paris v. Feder, 179 Ill. 2d 173, 177, 688 N.E.2d 137, 139 (1997). The best evidence of that intent is the language the legislature used in the statute, and we should give the language its plain and ordinary meaning. Paris, 179 Ill. 2d at 177, 688 N.E.2d at 139. If the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, we should discern the legislative intent from that language alone, without resorting to other tools of statutory construction, such as legislative history. People v. Hickman, 163 Ill. 2d 250, 261, 644 N.E.2d 1147, 1152 (1994).
Section 2-4(d)(1) of the Probate Act provides as follows:
"(d) For purposes of inheritance from or through a natural parent and for determining the property rights of any person under any instrument, an adopted child is not a child of a natural parent, nor is the child a descendant of a natural parent or of any lineal or collateral kindred ...