Appeal from Circuit Court of Coles County No. 99P116 Honorable Ashton C. Waller, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Myerscough
In May 2000, claimants, Carol Coffey and Christine Chambers Graves, filed separate claims against the estate of their deceased aunt, Zoe Templeton, for services provided during Zoe's life. Bonnie Gibbs, Zoe's daughter and executrix of her estate, denied the claims in June 2000. In May 2001, the trial court conducted a bench trial, and in October 2001, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the estate and against Carol and Christine. Carol and Christine appeal, arguing that the trial court erred in holding that they failed to overcome the presumption that their services for their aunt Zoe were gratuitous. We reverse and remand with directions.
Zoe Templeton was born in 1912. She had three children, Bonnie Gibbs, Betty Mann, and William Templeton, all of whom resided in Mount Vernon, Indiana. Zoe had two sisters, Thelma Bayes and Wanda Furman, who was Carol and Christine's mother. Zoe separated from her husband in late 1982 and moved from Indiana to Thelma's home in Charleston, Illinois.
In 1994, Wanda moved in with Zoe and Thelma. The three sisters split expenses equally until February 1997, when Thelma conveyed the home to Christine and Christine's husband, Steven, for them to remodel the house. Christine and Steven moved into the home shortly thereafter. As consideration, Christine and Steven agreed to allow Thelma and Wanda to live in the home without rent as long as they wanted and were able. Thelma died in July 1997.
Wanda testified that Zoe was not a party to the transaction because Zoe was in a better financial situation. Zoe had the means to provide for herself, and she continued to own her former Indiana home, in which Bonnie lived. In March 1998, Wanda became Zoe's power of attorney because Zoe's hand tremors made writing difficult. Wanda was responsible for paying Zoe's expenses. Zoe paid one-half of the monthly utility bill. Zoe also helped pay for Wanda's medication on a few occasions, and she paid approximately $20,000 to get Wanda a new car.
Christine and Steven sold their former home and used the proceeds to make several renovations with a total cost of approximately $60,000. Christine and Steven considered Zoe's needs in making the renovations. Zoe had difficulty breathing from heavy smoking, and she was unable to get into a bathtub. Christine and Steven converted a half bath into a handicapped-accessible large bath. They also bought air purifiers and installed zoned heating and air conditioning.
From July 1997 until Zoe's death in November 1999, Christine provided Zoe with a place to live, three meals a day, and clean laundry. Zoe needed assistance to move around, and she used a walker or furniture to steady herself. Bonnie, a certified nursing assistant, instructed Christine on caring for Zoe and provided her with a blood-pressure cuff, a stethoscope, and a suction machine. Christine sat with Zoe for an estimated 24 hours per week because Zoe did not like to be alone.
From 1995 until 1999, Carol also assisted Zoe. Carol estimated that she sat with Zoe for 24 hours per week as well. Carol frequently helped Zoe with her contact lens, which often bothered Zoe. Carol would remove the lens and reinsert it after rinsing or replacement. Carol also drove Zoe on errands because Zoe could no longer drive. Carol and Christine did not set fees for these services or bill Zoe while she was alive. Zoe never paid Carol or Christine for services.
In December 1999, the trial court admitted to probate Zoe's April 1998 will and April 1999 codicil. Zoe's will left all of her property to her three children. In May 2000, Carol and Christine filed claims against Zoe's estates totaling $70,037.66 and $33,328.57, respectively. In June 2000, Bonnie, acting as Zoe's executrix, denied both claims. In October 2000, Bonnie filed an inventory in this case showing that Zoe died possessing various Illinois farm properties in Gallatin and White Counties and $103,466 in personal property. The inventory did not list any of the Indiana farm properties that Zoe specifically devised to each of her three children in her will.
In May 2001, the trial court conducted a bench trial. Carol and Christine entered the evidence deposition of Joanne Barbee, Zoe's sister-in-law, into evidence. She had a conversation with Zoe several months after June 1999 but some months before Zoe's death. In her deposition, Joanne testified that Zoe indicated that she wanted Carol and Christine to be compensated for all they had done for her. According to Joanne, Zoe said that all they needed to do was file a claim against her estate. Joanne testified that Zoe had received compensation by filing a claim against the estate of Zoe's cousin, Doris Berry.
The trial court took judicial notice of In re Estate of Berry, No. 91-P-91 (Coles Co. Cir. Ct.), in which Zoe filed an uncontested claim for $9,945. Thelma was the executrix. The record shows that Zoe claimed the sum for "[s]ervices to decedent for cooking, home care, washing, ironing, [t]ransportation[,] and shopping[,] all performed with expectation of payment. Services rendered from December 19, 1988[,] to March 16, 1991[,] [at] 8 hours per day, 7 days per week at $85 per week for 117 weeks."
Wanda testified that she had a conversation with Zoe in late 1998 or 1999, wherein Zoe said that she wanted Carol and Christine to be compensated. On the day of Zoe's death, Zoe patted the hospital bed and said, "'I don't want the girls to go without.'" Wanda, Carol, and Christine were present. Wanda testified that, as Zoe's power of ...