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In re Estate of Chaney

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

November 26, 2013

In re ESTATE OF LAVERNE G. CHANEY, Deceased (Charles Chaney, Executor of the Estate of Laverne G. Chaney, Deceased, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
Sherry S. Chaney, Respondent-Appellee).

Held: [*]

In an action seeking a declaration that the antenuptial agreement decedent entered into with his wife prevented her from renouncing his will and asserting her statutory inheritance rights, the trial court properly applied the legal standard in In re Marriage of Murphy, which required antenuptial agreements entered into prior to the enactment of the Illinois Uniform Premarital Agreement Act of 1990 be fair and reasonable in order to be valid and enforceable, and under the circumstances, the agreement between decedent and his wife was not fair and reasonable and was unenforceable.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Whiteside County, No. 10-P-21; the Hon. Stanley B. Steines, Judge, presiding.

Bruce L. Carmen, of Carmen Law Office, PC, of Cambridge, and Clayton L. Lindsey, of Williams McCarthy, LLP, of Oregon, for appellant.

Thomas D. Murray, of Dixon, for appellee.

Justice O'Brien concurred in the judgment and opinion.

Justice Holdridge dissented, with opinion.

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 ...


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