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In Re Estate of Robert L. Baumgarten v. Marlene G. Baumgarten and Charles Harris

July 18, 2012

IN RE ESTATE OF ROBERT L. BAUMGARTEN
DECEASED (CRAIG BAUMGARTEN, ROSS BAUMGARTEN, )
AND KAREN SUNDHEIM,
PETITIONERS-APPELLANTS,
v.
MARLENE G. BAUMGARTEN AND CHARLES HARRIS,
RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 10 P 2270 Honorable James G. Riley, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Murphy

JUSTICE MURPHY delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Steele, P.J., and Salone, J., concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Petitioners, Craig Baumgarten, Ross Baumgarten, and Karen Sundheim, appeal from an order of the circuit court of Cook County dismissing with prejudice their petition to set aside the will and revocable trust of Robert G. Baumgarten. On appeal, petitioners contend dismissal was inappropriate because the petition alleges sufficient facts to state a cause of action for undue influence. For the reasons that follow, the decision of the circuit court is affirmed.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 On April 21, 2011, petitioners filed their first amended petition to set aside the will and trust of Robert L. Baumgarten in the estate of Robert L. Baumgarten, then pending in the circuit court of Cook County. Marlene Baumgarten, as the executor of the will and a trustee of the trust, was designated a respondent, and Charles Harris, as a trustee of the trust, was also designated a respondent. Petitioners assert in their petition that the will and trust admitted to probate were the result of undue influence, and should be set aside as a result.

¶ 4 In their petition, petitioners assert that a fiduciary relationship existed between Robert and Marlene, Robert's wife of more than 40 years, during the last years of Robert's life, at which time he was frequently ill. As Robert's health declined, he placed trust and confidence in his wife Marlene because he relied on her to provide him with basic necessities such as transportation, meals, and medications on a day-to-day basis. They further assert that if Marlene did not provide these necessities, Robert would not have received them.

¶ 5 Due to Robert's physical condition, petitioners allege that he was completely dependent on Marlene and easily influenced by her. They contend that Marlene took advantage of this influence by coercing him to give her total control of his finances and estate planning. Petitioners further assert that Marlene caused Robert to surrender to her will by constantly criticizing and scolding him, and as a result of this behavior, caused Robert to amend his trust twice during the last years of his life.

¶ 6 As an example of this criticism, petitioners allege that Marlene made demeaning comments if Robert forgot to take his medicine; yelled at Robert when he accidentally knocked over a lamp in public; and blamed Robert for loss in value of their finances during the global financial crisis occurring over the several years prior to Robert's death. As a result of this abuse, petitioners claim that Robert was incapable of exerting his own will without fear of further abuse by Marlene. Because Robert placed trust and confidence in Marlene, petitioners contend that she was able to control and influence his mind and actions to the extent that he did whatever she suggested or instructed him to do.

¶ 7 Furthermore, petitioners allege that at Marlene's insistence, Robert was forced to be removed from any further management of his finances and that Robert was unable to resist her instructions. Several years before Robert died, petitioners claim that Robert told his son, Craig, about his financial worth and his plans for his estate. Robert allegedly explained to Craig his intention to give $1 million to each of his children. Despite this intention, petitioners assert that Marlene instructed Robert to amend his estate plan to allow her access to all of the funds in his trust, and that he was unable to resist her instructions. As a result, petitioners allege that Marlene abused the fiduciary relationship between Robert and her.

¶ 8 Finally, petitioners contend that Marlene supplanted her will for that of Robert and succeeded in having him devise and bequeath almost all of his estate to her. At the time of the challenged instruments' making, petitioners allege that Robert was under the undue influence, domination, and control of Marlene, who deprived him of his free will. Petitioners claim that Robert naturally would have devised and bequeathed all of his estate to all of his heirs had Robert been possessed of his own will.

¶ 9 Respondents filed a joint motion under section 2-615 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2010)) to dismiss the first amended petition to contest the will of Robert L. Baumgarten and to set aside the Robert L. Baumgarten revocable trust on May 25, 2011. On July 19, 2011, after a hearing on respondents' motion to dismiss, the circuit court entered an order dismissing petitioners' petition with prejudice. Petitioners now appeal from this order.

¶ 10 ANALYSIS

ΒΆ 11 Where a trial court dismisses a complaint for failure to state a cause of action, the standard of review is de novo. Majca v. Beekil, 183 Ill. 2d 407, 416 (1998). In examining the grant of a motion to dismiss, the reviewing court accepts all well pleaded facts and their inferences as true. Id. The reviewing court must also construe the allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. King v. First Capital Financial Services Corp., 215 Ill. 2d 1, 11-12 (2005). Thus, a cause of action should be allowed to proceed unless it is "clearly apparent that no set of facts can be proved that would entitle the plaintiff to recovery." Marshall v. Burger King Corp., 222 Ill. 2d 422, 429 (2006). Because Illinois is a fact-pleading jurisdiction, however, the plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to bring a claim within a legally ...


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