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Colleen Bjork v. Frank P. O'meara

January 25, 2013

COLLEEN BJORK, APPELLANT,
v.
FRANK P. O'MEARA, APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Freeman

JUSTICE FREEMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Plaintiff, Colleen Bjork, brought an action in the circuit court of Cook County against defendant, Frank P. O'Meara, alleging intentional interference with a testamentary expectancy. The circuit court dismissed plaintiff's complaint as time-barred under the limitation period governing will contests. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal. 2012 IL App (1st) 111617. This court allowed plaintiff's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S. Ct. R. 315 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010). We now reverse the judgment of the appellate court and the order of the circuit court, and remand the cause to the circuit court for further proceedings.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 For several years prior to his death, Frank J. Dama was a friend to Bjork and to O'Meara. He was not related to either by blood or marriage. Bjork worked as a hospice nurse for Dama's late wife. O'Meara was Dama's dentist.

¶ 4 In a May 2005 telephone conversation with Bjork, Dama, who was 90 years old, told Bjork that he owned two bank accounts. One was his regular checking account containing approximately $800,000. Dama told Bjork that O'Meara knew the existence of this account, and that O'Meara "had been asking Dama for more and more money." The other account, containing approximately "half a million," was not used to pay expenses, and O'Meara did not know this account existed. Dama told Bjork that he wanted her to have this account "because he did not want O'Meara to get everything." Dama told Bjork that he wanted to name her as the pay-on-death beneficiary on this account.

¶ 5 Over the course of several months, Dama's personal banker, Mary

Williams of the Northern Trust Company (hereafter Northern Trust), twice telephoned Bjork to inform her that Dama wanted to name Bjork as pay-on-death beneficiary on one of his bank accounts. In these conversations, Williams obtained information from Bjork, and asked her if she would sign documents to complete the beneficiary designation process. Bjork agreed.

¶ 6 On October 4, 2005, Williams sent a package to Bjork via FedEx, which contained documents for Bjork to sign to complete the beneficiary designation process. One of the documents was Northern Trust's form entitled "Power of Attorney," which already had been signed by Dama and had been partially completed. The information on the form included the account number (612375), the social security numbers of Dama and Bjork, and the title of "Frank J. Dama Trustee for Colleen Mary Bjork Beneficiary." Bjork signed this form and returned it to Williams. Thereafter, two deposits were made into Dama's Northern Trust bank account number 612375, bringing the balance of that account to $566,695.52.

¶ 7 On October 21, 2005, Dama signed a power of attorney for property that appointed O'Meara as his agent, and expressly revoked all powers previously granted to Bjork. On December 13, 2005, Dama executed a will containing a general residuary clause, in which he left his entire estate to O'Meara and O'Meara's wife.

¶ 8 From late 2005 through the end of 2008, Bjork and Dama were in contact through letters, telephone conversations, and in-person visits. In mid-January 2009, Dama telephoned Bjork to inform her that he had fallen and was not feeling well. Bjork visited Dama in his apartment, where O'Meara's secretary was present. Thereafter, Bjork's telephone calls to Dama's apartment went unreturned.

¶ 9 Dama died on February 18, 2009. Shortly after Dama's death, a representative of Northern Trust informed Bjork that she was not a beneficiary of any Dama account.

¶ 10 A. Probate Proceeding

ΒΆ 11 O'Meara filed the will with the clerk of the circuit court, and thereafter filed a petition for probate of will and for letters testamentary. Counsel for Bjork subsequently filed an appearance on her behalf. The court admitted the will to probate and ...


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