Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division
In re ESTATE OF GLENN H. BURREN, Deceased
Steven A. Miner, Steven A. Miner, II, Miner, and Kathryn R. Miner, Respondents-Appellants Marion Stewart, Linda Kemp, Danielle Burren, and Jeanne Burren, Guardian of Paige Burren and Michael Burren, Minors, Petitioners-Appellees,
In a will contest instituted by decedent’s children, the trial court’s decision finding decedent’s will invalid and ordering respondent, an attorney who had a close relationship with decedent during his lifetime, to repay nearly $500, 000 plus prejudgment interest was upheld on appeal, since the circumstances of the execution of the will raised a presumption that undue influence was exercised over decedent by respondent and he did not rebut that presumption.
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 07-P-5579; Hon. Review Susan M. Coleman, Judge, presiding.
Clifford E. Lund, of West Dundee (Clifford E. Lund, of counsel), William A. Hellyer, Ltd., of Crystal Lake (William A. Hellyer, of counsel), and Robert P. Sheridan, of Chicago (Robert P. Sheridan, of counsel), for appellants.
Kogut & Associates, of Oak Brook (A. Charles Kogut and Daniel W. Kaminski, of counsel), for appellees.
Panel PRESIDING JUSTICE NEVILLE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Hyman and Pierce concurred in the judgment and opinion.
NEVILLE, PRESIDING JUSTICE.
¶ 1 In 2004, Glenn Burren signed a will that named his attorney, Steven Miner, as executor. In the will, Glenn named his three children and Steven's two children as the principal legatees of the estate. When Glenn died, Steven filed the will in the probate court. Glenn's children contested the will and petitioned to recover sums of money Glenn gave Steven in the years before Glenn's death. The trial court, after a bench trial, held the will invalid and ordered Steven to pay to the estate almost $500, 000, plus prejudgment interest in excess of $200, 000. Steven appeals from both the order declaring the will invalid and the order directing Steven to repay the estate more than $700, 000.
¶ 2 We find that the evidence raises presumptions that Steven exercised undue influence over Glenn when Glenn signed checks transferring money from Glenn's accounts to Steven, and when Glenn signed the will. We also find the evidence sufficient to support the trial court's finding that Steven failed to rebut the presumption of undue influence. Because we find no trial error and adequate support for the award of damages, we affirm the trial court's judgment.
¶ 3 BACKGROUND
¶ 4 In 1976, Marion Burren brought her date, Steven, home to meet her parents. Marion's father, Glenn, got along well with Steven, who called Glenn "Pops." They continued to visit each other after Steven and Marion broke up in 1978. Glenn divorced Marion's mother in 1978, and that same year he started dating Steven's mother, Nancy Miner.
¶ 5 Steven graduated from law school and obtained his license to practice law in 1981. He represented Glenn in several real estate transactions, and he represented Marion in her divorce. In June 2003, Steven, acting as attorney for Glenn's sister, Pearl Burren, prepared a power of attorney in which Pearl appointed Glenn as her agent with the power to conduct financial transactions for her. Glenn wrote several checks to Steven on Pearl's account. When Pearl died in November 2003, Glenn inherited an investment account worth about $620, 000, and real estate which Glenn sold, with Steven acting as his attorney, for more than $187, 000. Glenn made his bank account a joint account, giving Steven the power to sign checks drawn on Glenn's account.
¶ 6 Glenn came to Steven's home for a birthday party for Steven's son, Steven Miner II, in January 2004. Before leaving, Glenn signed a typewritten will which named Steven as the estate's executor. The will split the bulk of Glenn's estate into five equal parts, with one-fifth going to each of Glenn's three children, Marion Stewart, Linda Kemp and Glenn Burren, Jr., and one-fifth going to each of Steven's children, Steven II and Katy Miner.
¶ 7 Glenn made out many checks to Steven over the course of the following years. The checks totaled almost $500, 000. At Steven's behest, Glenn signed a number of letters, on Steven's letterhead and addressed to Glenn, regarding the checks. One dated June 2004 says:
"Re: receipt of $70, 000.00
Please allow this letter to acknowledge the receipt of $70, 000.00 in cash and checks. I remain