In re ESTATE OF SARAH O'HARE, a Disabled Person (Virginia Johnson, Appellant,
Donald E. Pulchalski, Public Guardian of Du Page County, as Successor Guardian of the Estate of Sarah O'Hare, Appellee (Great American Insurance Company, Intervenor))
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 07-P-911. Honorable Thomas C. Dudgeon, Judge, Presiding.
Leon Bordelon III, of Chicago, and Terrence J. Benshoof, of Bordelon, Benshoof & Armstead, P.C., of Glen Ellyn, for appellant.
Paul J. Bargiel, of Paul J. Bargiel, P.C., of Chicago, and Donald E. Puchalski and Jennifer B. Martyn, both of the Office of the Public Guardian, of Wheaton, for appellee.
JUSTICE SPENCE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McLaren and Hudson concurred in the judgment and opinion.
[¶1] Virginia Johnson appeals from a judgment for $421,621.73 in favor of the public guardian of Du Page County, as guardian of the estate of Virginia's adult daughter, Sarah O'Hare. Virginia had served as guardian of Sarah's estate from November 9, 2007, until June 24, 2010. The trial court found that Virginia failed to properly account for the use of estate funds and had spent substantial sums for
her own benefit and the benefit of members of her family other than Sarah. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the judgment.
[¶2] Sarah was born in October 1989 and suffered significant injuries at birth that left her profoundly disabled. A medical malpractice action resulted in a substantial settlement. When the proceedings below were initiated, Sarah's estate included an annuity that paid over $15,000 a month. Sarah lived at home where Virginia served as her primary caregiver. The other members of the household were Sarah's brother and her stepfather, Keith Johnson. At times, a live-in caregiver resided with the family to assist Virginia.
[¶3] Although Sarah evidently had ties to Illinois, when Virginia was appointed guardian the family was residing in California, where Keith was serving as assistant pastor of an Episcopal church. Keith's vocation required the family to move frequently. Sometime prior to October 2008, the family moved to Florida. The trial court had not been advised of the move beforehand. More significantly, Virginia and Keith purchased a house in Florida using funds from Sarah's estate for the down payment and monthly mortgage payments. They did so without the trial court's prior approval.
[¶4] Virginia submitted her first annual report and accounting in October 2008. The trial court found the accounting both (1) insufficiently detailed and substantiated and (2) rife with questionable expenditures. Not only had Virginia used estate funds to purchase a family home in Florida, she reported substantial payments related to vehicles and was drawing a large salary from the estate without the trial court's approval. The trial court ordered Virginia to submit a full accounting and to seek prior approval for any expenditures. On November 26, 2008, Virginia filed an emergency motion for the release of funds in accordance with a proposed interim monthly budget that allotted over $1,000 for vehicle expenses (car payments, insurance, and fuel), $3,875 for mortgage payments, $4,000 to Virginia as a caregiver's salary, and $1,500 for a relief caregiver. The motion requested entry of " an Order permitting the withdrawal from the estate of the sums requested for the remainder of the month of November, and release of funds in accordance with the interim budget submitted for the month of December, and the first half of the month of January, proportionately." The trial court granted the motion.
[¶5] Dissatisfied with Virginia's attempts to properly account for the use of the estate's funds, on February 2, 2009, the trial court appointed the public guardian to review the accounting, including receipts and other records that had been tendered to the court in connection with the accounting. (Robert I. Mork was the public guardian of Du Page County at the time, but he passed away during the pendency of the proceedings below.) In February 2010, Virginia submitted her second annual report and accounting. Later that month, the public guardian filed a preliminary report of his investigation in ...