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In re Estate of DiMatteo

Court of Appeals of Illinois

August 16, 2013

In re ESTATE OF Richard DiMATTEO, Deceased
v.
Clint Eastman, Individually, and as Independent Executor of the Estate of Richard DiMatteo, Respondent-Appellee. Thomas Golly, Petitioner-Appellant,

Page 421

Kevin J. Todd and John C. Lillig, both of Hoogendoorn & Talbot, LLP, of Chicago, for appellant.

Donald M. Thompson, of Chicago, for appellee.

[374 Ill.Dec. 282] OPINION

GORDON, Justice.

¶ 1 Two months before he passed away, decedent Richard DiMatteo executed a will [374 Ill.Dec. 283]

Page 422

naming respondent Clint Eastman executor of his estate and giving his entire estate to Eastman. This will revoked a previous will, which named petitioner Thomas Golly executor and gave DiMatteo's entire estate to Golly. After Eastman filed a petition to probate DiMatteo's new will and request his letters testamentary, Golly filed a petition to contest and invalidate the will. The petition contained two counts: (1) undue influence; and (2) tortious interference with testamentary expectancy.

¶ 2 Eastman filed a motion to dismiss under section 2-615 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2010)), arguing that Golly failed to plead sufficient facts to state a claim for both counts. The probate division granted Eastman's section 2-615 motion and dismissed the petition with prejudice. Golly appeals, and for the following reasons, we reverse.

¶ 3 BACKGROUND

¶ 4 Decedent Richard DiMatteo, a resident of Cook County, Illinois, passed away on June 14, 2011. On April 8, 2011, two months before he passed away, DiMatteo executed a will naming respondent Clint Eastman executor of his estate and " giv[ing] all the rest and residue of my estate of every kind and character, whether real or personal, wherever situated, including lapsed legacies, but expressly excluding any property over which I may have power of appointment at my death" to Eastman (the 2011 will). The 2011 will revoked " all prior wills and codicils." DiMatteo had previously executed a will on April 26, 2010 (the 2010 will), which the 2011 will revoked. The 2010 will named petitioner Thomas Golly as executor and gave " all the rest and residue of my estate of every kind and character, whether real or personal, wherever situated, including lapsed legacies, but expressly excluding any property over which I may have power of appointment at my death" to Golly. If Golly did not survive by 30 days, DiMatteo's estate would pass to Golly's grandson, Thomas McIntosh Golly. If Golly's grandson was a minor at the time he inherited DiMatteo's estate, " payment [would be] made for the benefit of Golly's grandson to a custodian under the Uniform Gifts or Transfers to Minors Act."

¶ 5 On June 16, 2011, two days after DiMatteo passed away, Eastman filed a petition to probate the 2011 will and for the issuance of letters testamentary in the probate division of the circuit court of Cook County. Eastman attached a list of heirs and legatees, which listed two of DiMatteo's cousins as heirs, [1] and listed Eastman as a legatee. The list stated that Eastman was DiMatteo's friend. On December 12, 2011, Golly filed a petition to contest and invalidate the will. The petition included two counts: (1) undue influence and (2) tortious interference with testamentary expectancy. Eastman filed a motion to dismiss the petition under section 2-615 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2010)), arguing that Golly failed to state a cause of action. On May 1, 2012, the probate division granted Eastman's motion without prejudice and gave Golly leave to file an amended petition. Golly filed an amended petition on May 31, 2012, and it is this petition that serves as the basis for this appeal.

¶ 6 I. The Amended Petition

¶ 7 Golly alleges the following in his amended petition.

¶ 8 A. The Parties

¶ 9 DiMatteo lived alone in Riverside, Illinois. DiMatteo never married, had no [374 Ill.Dec. 284]

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children, and was not close with his extended family. DiMatteo passed away after a " precipitous decline in his health in the last few months of his life." The petition further alleges that DiMatteo was suspicious of others and paranoid, and exhibited paranoid characteristics. He did not develop trust or friendships quickly.

¶ 10 Golly is a farmer residing on his family farm in Winnebago, Minnesota. In the early 2000s, DiMatteo purchased farmland adjacent to Golly's family farm.

¶ 11 Eastman resides in Winnebago, Minnesota, and worked for Golly as a farmhand. Eastman is not related to DiMatteo by blood or marriage, and, on information and belief, Eastman " was, at most, a passing acquaintance of the decedent prior to the sharp decline in decedent's health in the last few months of decedent's life, at or about the time the 2011 Will was executed."

¶ 12 B. DiMatteo's Relationship With Golly

¶ 13 From the time DiMatteo purchased his farm property in Minnesota, Golly rented it from DiMatteo. During his visits to Minnesota, DiMatteo became friends with Golly and his family, and often stayed with the Golly family. DiMatteo spent multiple summers in Minnesota and stayed rent-free in a house occupied by Golly and his family.

¶ 14 Over the course of the time that DiMatteo spent in Minnesota, he became close with Golly and his family, and the Gollys treated DiMatteo as a member of their family. DiMatteo also became close with Golly's grandson, Thomas McIntosh Golly,[2] and DiMatteo frequently played with Golly's grandson and gave him gifts. DiMatteo regularly asked Golly and his family, including Golly's son Todd Golly, for assistance with various projects and needs. Some of these needs required traveling from Minnesota to Illinois to assist DiMatteo with medical issues, including taking DiMatteo to the hospital and to healthcare providers.

¶ 15 At various times, DiMatteo informed Golly that he intended to include Golly in his will because of their long and close friendship, because of the kindness and assistance Golly and his family had provided him over the years, and because he was not close with his own family. In or about April 2010, DiMatteo suffered a stroke. He contacted Golly and requested that Golly travel from Minnesota to Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois, where DiMatteo was hospitalized. Golly provided DiMatteo with any assistance DiMatteo requested, including settling DiMatteo in his residence after he was discharged from the hospital. On or about April 26, 2010, DiMatteo executed the 2010 will, naming Golly as executor and leaving his entire estate to Golly, or, in the event that Golly did not survive DiMatteo by 30 days, to Golly's grandson. Golly had no involvement in the preparation of the 2010 will, nor did he encourage DiMatteo to include him or any of his family members in the will. DiMatteo also appointed Golly his agent under a power of attorney for healthcare decision making. " At some point thereafter," DiMatteo gave Golly a copy of the 2010 will and told Golly that he had given him the power of attorney over his healthcare. DiMatteo informed Golly that he had provided for him because of the close friendship DiMatteo had with Golly and his family, " who had done so much for him over the years."

¶ 16 C. Eastman's Influence on DiMatteo

¶ 17 DiMatteo's health continued to decline following his April 2010 stroke, and [374 Ill.Dec. 285]

Page 424

" sharply declined in the last few months of his life, from March [2011] until his death on June 14, 2011." The petition further states that, on information and belief, DiMatteo suffered from additional strokes, which physically weakened him, and suffered from leukemia, which was in its end stages in March 2011. DiMatteo's emotional and mental condition and stability declined along with his physical condition. As a result, the petition concluded that DiMatteo was " increasingly dependent on others and vulnerable to the influence of others."

¶ 18 In March 2011, DiMatteo purchased a house in Blue Earth, Minnesota, near Winnebago. DiMatteo asked Golly to help him move from his Riverside residence to Minnesota, and Golly agreed to help. Golly had recently undergone knee replacement surgery, so he enlisted the help of Eastman, one of his farmhands. On March 12, 2011, Golly, his son, and Eastman drove to DiMatteo's Riverside residence to pack up his belongings. The petition further alleges that, on information and belief, prior to this trip, Eastman and DiMatteo had only been casual acquaintances, having met at Golly's farm when DiMatteo was residing there and Eastman was working there.

¶ 19 " By March 2011, [DiMatteo] was obviously weakened and depressed and it was clear that his health was failing and that he was dying. Eastman then began to exploit [DiMatteo's] vulnerability and undertook to secure a position of trust and confidence with [DiMatteo]." Eastman " pursued a course of conduct to undermine the friendship and trust that existed between [DiMatteo] and [Golly], to make false statements about [Golly] to [DiMatteo], to cast [Golly] in a disparaging light and to make [Golly] appear to be an unworthy recipient of [DiMatteo's] estate," while simultaneously portraying " himself and his family as victims of [Golly]'s greed and exploititive [ sic ] conduct and to insinuate himself into a position of trust with [DiMatteo]" for the purpose of using his new position of trust to create " an estrangement and loss of trust between [DiMatteo] and [Golly], and to influence [DiMatteo] to include Eastman in his will."

¶ 20 Golly alleges that Eastman made " repeated false statements about [Golly] to [DiMatteo], calculated to undermine [Golly's] character and trustworthiness in [DiMatteo's] eyes," which characterized Golly as greedy and Eastman and his family as victims of Golly's greed. These statements caused DiMatteo to resent Golly. Eastman intended for these statements to convince DiMatteo to change his estate plan to benefit Eastman, to the detriment of Golly. The petition further alleges that, " [o]n information and belief, Eastman's false statements and conduct operated on [DiMatteo] at the time he executed the 2011 Will and caused [DiMatteo] to disinherit [Golly] and to include Eastman in the [2011] will."

¶ 21 The petition further alleges that, " [o]n information and belief," Eastman knew of DiMatteo's vulnerability and exploited DiMatteo's paranoia by criticizing Golly, questioning Golly's " good faith and trustworthiness," and challenging Golly's " worthiness to be a recipient of [DiMatteo]'s estate" for the purpose of insinuating himself into a position of trust with DiMatteo. Eastman's false statements to DiMatteo included assertions that Golly " did not need the money because he was already successful but that Eastman did need it, and that [Golly] was refusing to pay Eastman." These statements were false, as Golly had paid Eastman in full for all the work Eastman told DiMatteo about, and, " on information and belief," Eastman knew these statements to be false.

Page 425

[374 Ill.Dec. 286] ¶ 22 On or about March 16, 2011, Eastman made inquiries about how to change the will of someone who already had a will. One person to whom Eastman made these inquiries was Alberto Rosillo, a local scrap collector. Eastman told him that the person, DiMatteo, whose will he was planning to have changed was not in good shape and was dying from leukemia, and that, in his effort to convince the person to change his will, Eastman told him that he needed money for his family and that his boss, Golly, was not paying him for his work, creating a hardship for his family. Eastman further told him that he believed that the person, DiMatteo, was not very competent and that he did not have much time to live.

¶ 23 Eastman's false statements were intended to cast Golly in a false light in DiMatteo's eyes and to undermine the confidence that DiMatteo placed in Golly, causing DiMatteo to believe that Golly was not a worthy recipient of his estate. The petition further alleges that these statements were " particularly effective against [DiMatteo] because of [DiMatteo]'s paranoia and susceptibility to believe the worst about others and, on information and belief, the fact that such an approach would be successful in light of [DiMatteo's] paranoia was known to Eastman."

¶ 24 On or about March 26, 2011, DiMatteo came to Minnesota. He was complaining of a severe headache and pain in his eyes, he could not talk properly, his eyes appeared bloody, and he was visibly physically weak and mentally diminished. He grew increasingly paranoid and easily upset. Eastman traveled to DiMatteo's residence in Blue Earth, Minnesota, seeking to " prevail upon [DiMatteo] who was in a weakened and vulnerable physical, emotional and mental condition to revoke his existing will and to prepare a new will that included Eastman as the beneficiary of [DiMatteo's] estate." The petition further alleges that, on information and belief, Eastman repeated his false statements to DiMatteo for the purpose of angering DiMatteo and causing him to turn against Golly and remove him from his estate plan.

¶ 25 " At or about this time, Rosillo asked Eastman how he was able to get [DiMatteo] to change his will." Eastman told Rosillo that he informed DiMatteo that Golly was not paying him for the work he did, that Golly refused to pay Eastman when Eastman asked to be paid, that Eastman's family was suffering hardship as a result, and that Golly did not need DiMatteo's money, but Eastman did. Eastman then asked Rosillo whether he could " go to jail for pressuring someone to change their will."

¶ 26 " At or about this time," Eastman told Rosillo that he could take down a windmill on some property for scrap metal and parts and haul away scrap iron at the property. The property belonged to DiMatteo, but Eastman told Rosillo that the property would belong to him after DiMatteo died. Rosillo arrived at the property, and shortly thereafter, Eastman and DiMatteo arrived. DiMatteo looked " pale and weak and fell to the ground as he got out of [Eastman's] truck." DiMatteo inquired as to why Rosillo was on his property and told Rosillo to leave his property. Eastman " told Rosillo not to tell [DiMatteo] why he was at the property." DiMatteo asked Eastman whether he trusted Rosillo, and Eastman responded by telling DiMatteo that Rosillo was a friend and that he trusted him. " Eastman attempted to enlist Rosillo in lying to [DiMatteo] about not being paid, and asked Rosillo to tell [DiMatteo] that [Golly] had not paid Eastman for work Eastman had performed for [Golly] at [Golly]'s request. Rosillo declined to do so because he did not believe this was true."

Page 426

[374 Ill.Dec. 287] ¶ 27 In Rosillo's presence, Eastman told DiMatteo that Golly had not paid him for work Eastman performed on Golly's farm and for work knocking down a trailer, and that this failure to pay created a hardship for Eastman's family. Eastman, in Rosillo's presence, told DiMatteo that " he was not making it financially" due to Golly's failure to pay him, and that he needed to be paid because he had a wife and family to support. DiMatteo became " visibly very angry at [Golly]" and stated that he had trusted Golly to handle his affairs, but in response to this information, " he would ‘ write-out’ [Golly]." DiMatteo stated that he was " upset by the news that [Golly] did not pay Eastman and indicated that since [Golly] did not pay Eastman, he would take care of Eastman and make sure that he got his money." The petition further alleges that, on information and belief, Eastman made these false statements for the purpose of turning DiMatteo against Golly and to induce DiMatteo to ...


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