In re ESTATE OF LAVERNE G. CHANEY, Deceased
Sherry S. Chaney, Respondent-Appellee. Charles Chaney, Executor of the Estate of Laverne G. Chaney, Deceased, Petitioner-Appellant,
Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Whiteside County, Illinois Circuit No. 10-P-21 Honorable Stanley B. Steines, Judge, Presiding.
JUSTICE CARTER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice O'Brien concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Holdridge dissented, with opinion.
¶ 1 In the context of a probate proceeding, petitioner, Charles Chaney, as the executor of the estate of his late father, Laverne G. Chaney, filed a petition for miscellaneous relief, seeking, among other things, a declaration from the trial court that the antenuptial agreement entered into between Laverne and respondent, Sherry S. Chaney, was valid and binding and that it precluded Sherry from renouncing Laverne's will and taking her statutory forced share of the estate as Laverne's surviving spouse (755 ILCS 5/2-8(a) (West 2010)). After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court found that the antenuptial agreement was not fair and reasonable and that it was invalid and unenforceable and denied Charles's request for declaratory relief. Charles appeals. We affirm the trial court's ruling.
¶ 2 FACTS
¶ 3 The issue raised in this appeal is a narrow question of law, and we will only set forth those facts that are necessary for our determination of that issue. Laverne and Sherry were married on July 4, 1986, when Laverne was in his late fifties and Sherry was in her late forties. At the time of the marriage, Laverne had substantially more assets than Sherry. Both Laverne and Sherry had been married previously, and each had children from their prior marriages. The day before their marriage to each other, Laverne and Sherry went to the office of Laverne's attorney and signed an antenuptial agreement that the attorney had prepared. Among other things, the agreement prohibited either person from renouncing the will of the other person and asserting his or her statutory inheritance rights upon the other person's death. At the time that the agreement was executed, Laverne's attorney also had Laverne sign an acknowledgment that he had advised Laverne that the agreement was of "questionable validity" due to the limited provisions it contained for the support of Sherry.
¶ 4 In February 2010, after more than 23 years of marriage to Sherry, Laverne passed away. At the time of his death, Laverne still had substantially more assets than Sherry. Laverne had executed a will in 1979 during one of his previous marriages. The will named Charles as executor of Laverne's estate. Charles filed a petition to admit the will to probate. Sherry sought to renounce the will and to take her statutory forced share of the estate as Laverne's surviving spouse. Charles filed a petition asking the trial court to, among other things, declare that the antenuptial agreement was valid and binding and that it prevented Sherry from renouncing the will and asserting her statutory inheritance rights.
¶ 5 An evidentiary hearing was held on the petition. As part of the hearing, the parties filed written closing arguments and made oral arguments to the trial court on two different dates. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court applied the legal standard set forth in In re Marriage of Murphy, 359 Ill.App.3d 289, 299-300 (2005), for antenuptial agreements executed prior to the 1990 enactment of the Illinois Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (750 ILCS 10/1 et seq. (West 2010)), that to be valid and enforceable, the agreement had to be, among other things, fair and reasonable. The trial court found that the agreement did not provide an equitable settlement for Sherry in lieu of her inheritance rights, that it was not fair and reasonable, and that it was invalid and unenforceable. The trial court, therefore, denied Charles's request for declaratory relief. This appeal followed.
¶ 6 ANALYSIS
¶ 7 On appeal, Charles argues that the trial court erred in finding that the antenuptial agreement was invalid and unenforceable. Charles does not challenge the factual findings that underlie the trial court's decision, a challenge which would have invoked a manifest weight standard of review on appeal. See Vancura v. Katris, 238 Ill.2d 352, 373-74 (2010) (the trial court's factual findings will be affirmed unless they are against the manifest weight of the evidence). Instead, Charles raises a narrow question of law, that a standard of fairness less stringent than that stated in Murphy should have been applied by the trial court in determining the validity of the antenuptial agreement in this case because the agreement was triggered by the death of one of the spouses and not by the dissolution of the marriage as it was in Murphy. Because Charles raises a question of law, the standard of review on appeal is de novo. See id.
¶ 8 As Sherry correctly points out, however, Charles has forfeited that argument by not raising it in the trial court. It is well-settled law in Illinois that issues, theories, or arguments not raised in the trial court are forfeited and may not be raised for the first time on appeal. See, e.g., Daniels v. Anderson, 162 Ill.2d 47, 58 (1994) (issues and theories); Kiefer v. Rust-Oleum Corp., 394 Ill.App.3d 485, 493 (2009) (arguments); Norway Tree Farm, Inc. v. Baugher, 8 Ill.App.3d 1061, 1062 (1972) ("issues, questions, points or contentions not presented in the trial court and properly preserved for review will not be considered on appeal"). Despite making written and oral arguments to the trial court as to the validity of the agreement, Charles did not at any time assert that a different standard of fairness applied under the facts of this case. Charles's argument, therefore, has been forfeited on appeal. See id.
¶ 9 Charles's reliance on Yee v. City of Escondido, California, 503 U.S. 519, 534-35 (1992) (new arguments may be made on appeal as long as the underlying issue was raised previously), for his conclusion to the contrary is misplaced. Yee cites the forfeiture rule that applies in the United States Supreme Court and not the forfeiture rule that applies here. While we recognize, as Charles suggests, that the forfeiture rule is a limitation on the parties and not on the court (see Dillon v. Evanston Hospital, 199 Ill.2d 483, 504-05 (2002)), Charles has not provided us with any compelling reason to relax the forfeiture rule in this case.
¶ 10 Even if we were to consider the merits of Charles's argument on appeal, we would still have to uphold the trial court's ruling because there is simply no support in the law for Charles's position that a different standard of fairness should be applied. The case relied on by Charles in support of that position, In re Estate of Cullen, 66 Ill.App.2d 217, 220-26 (1965), addressed an issue of contract and statutory interpretation as to whether certain language in an antenuptial agreement was sufficient to bar the claimant from receiving the statutory surviving spouse's award. As such, the Cullen decision in no way supports Charles's argument in this appeal. Indeed, the case law in this area demonstrates that Illinois courts have applied the same standard of fairness regardless of whether the antenuptial agreement was triggered by ...