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In re Estate of Schumann

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

November 3, 2016

In re ESTATE OF JOHN O. SCHUMANN, Deceased
v.
Mary Ann Herron, a/k/a Mary Ann Yoswig, as Executrix of the Estate of John O. Schumann, Respondent-Appellee. Hanna Struever and Nathan Struever, Petitioners-Appellants,

         Appeal from Circuit Court of Calhoun County No. 14P8 Honorable John Frank McCartney, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Appleton and Pope concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          STEIGMANN JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 John O. Schumann (Pete) died in July 2013. In March 2014, Mary Ann Herren (otherwise known as Mary Ann Yoswig)-Pete's caretaker and holder of his power of attorney during the later years of his life-petitioned to probate a will Pete executed in October 2007, which appointed Herren as executrix and devised Pete's entire estate to be administered pursuant to a trust agreement. Hanna and Nathan Struever-the children of Pete's late wife, Alice- petitioned to contest the 2007 will. The Struevers claimed that Pete lacked the capacity to execute the 2007 will and that Herren exerted undue influence over Pete in creating it. The Struevers further asserted that Pete executed a valid will and trust in 2002, which would benefit the Struevers.

         ¶ 2 Herren moved to dismiss the Struevers' will contest, arguing that under the supreme court's decision in In re Estate of Schlenker, 209 Ill.2d 456, 808 N.E.2d 995 (2004), the Struevers lacked standing. The trial court agreed and dismissed the Struevers' petition. The Struevers appeal, and we reverse.

         ¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 Pete died in 2013. In March 2014, Herren filed a petition to probate Pete's October 18, 2007, will, which was attached to Herren's petition and which named her as executrix. The will explicitly revoked "all prior wills" and bequeathed Pete's entire estate to "the Trustee under the Trust Agreement dated October 18, 2007." (The referenced trust agreement was not attached to Herren's petition to probate and does not appear anywhere in the record on appeal.)

         ¶ 5 In December 2014, the Struevers filed an amended petition to contest the 2007 will. The amended petition alleged that (1) Pete lacked the testamentary capacity to execute the 2007 will and (2) Herren exerted undue influence over Pete when executing the will. The Struevers alleged further that in October 2002, Pete and Alice executed "mutual" wills and trusts. Attached to the Struevers' petition to contest were Alice's 2002 will and trust agreement and Pete's 2002 trust agreement. The Struevers' petition did not explain why Pete's 2002 will was not attached. The Struevers requested that the trial court set aside the 2007 will and distribute Pete's estate according to his 2002 will.

         ¶ 6 In January 2015, Herren filed a motion to dismiss the Struevers' amended petition. Herren argued that the Struevers' petition failed to meet the pleading requirements of section 2-603 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-603 (West 2014)) and the mailing requirements of section 8-1(b) of the Probate Act of 1975 (755 ILCS 5/8-1(b) (West 2014)). In March 2015, Herren filed a supplement to her motion to dismiss, in which she added an additional argument: that the Struevers lacked standing to challenge the 2007 will. Citing Schlenker, Herren claimed that the Struevers could not establish standing as legatees to the 2002 will because the 2007 will explicitly revoked all prior wills, thus voiding the 2002 will and precluding any claim to standing that relied on it.

         ¶ 7 In June 2015, the trial court denied Herren's motion to dismiss. The court determined that the Struevers had standing as legatees to the 2002 will and as creditors to the 2007 will.

         ¶ 8 On July 9, 2015, Herren filed a motion to reconsider, reiterating her argument that, pursuant to Schlenker, any prior will of Pete's was revoked by his 2007 will and could not be relied upon to establish standing. In addition, Herren added an argument that the 2002 will should be presumed to be revoked because it "has never been produced and its current existence is speculative."

         ¶ 9 In August 2015, the trial court conducted a hearing on Herren's motion to reconsider and, in September 2015, entered an order granting the motion. The court determined that under the supreme court's holding in Schlenker, Pete's 2002 will must be considered revoked and void and could not be used to establish standing. The court also accepted Herren's argument that the 2002 will must be presumed to be revoked because the Struevers produced no evidence establishing its existence or validity. Therefore, the court concluded that the Struevers lacked standing to challenge Pete's 2007 will as legatees. In addition, the court determined that the Struevers were not creditors of Pete's estate. The court therefore concluded that the Struevers did not have standing as "interested person[s]" under the Probate Act and granted Herren's motion to dismiss the Struevers' amended petition.

         ¶ 10 This appeal followed.

         ¶ 11 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 12 The Struevers argue that the trial court erred by dismissing their petition to contest Pete's 2007 will for lack of standing. Specifically, the Struevers argue that they had standing to challenge Pete's 2007 will because they were legatees to Pete's 2002 will. Herren responds by arguing that under Schlenker, the Struevers cannot rely on their status under the 2002 will to establish standing because the 2007 will revoked all prior wills, thereby making the 2002 will void. Herren argues further that even if Schlenker does not preclude the ...


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