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In re Estate of Pryor

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

March 22, 2018

In re ESTATE OF ETHEL MARIE PRYOR, Deceased
v.
Michael Pry or, Respondent-Appellee Kathy Ralph, Petitioner-Appellant,

          Order filed December 1, 2017.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois, Circuit No. 13-P-54 Honorable Katherine Gorman Hubler, Judge, Presiding.

          WRIGHT JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Lytton concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice O'Brien dissented, with opinion.

          OPINION

          WRIGHT JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Kathy Ralph (petitioner) appeals from the trial court's decision denying her request for the appointment of a special representative for decedent's estate.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 The decedent, Ethel Marie Pryor, died on September 3, 2012, at age 86. On March 5, 2013, the circuit court issued an order appointing Michael Pryor as legal representative of the decedent's estate.

         ¶ 4 On February 11, 2015, petitioner filed a declaratory judgment action related to decedent's estate pursuant to section 2-701 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code). 735 ILCS 5/2-701 (West 2014). The complaint seeking declaratory relief alleged that the decedent executed an original living trust, dated June 3, 2005; an amendment to the original living trust, dated February 13, 2009; the decedent's last will and testament, dated February 13, 2009; a second amendment to the original living trust, dated July 11, 2012; and a third amendment to the original living trust, dated August 13, 2012. The complaint alleged that all of the documents were prepared by the Rochford law firm, with the exception of a second amendment to the original living trust that was prepared by the Harrod law firm. The complaint designated Michael Pryor, Todd Pryor, Deloris Nieukirk, and James Rochford as defendants and estimated the value of the estate assets to be $844, 288, which included shares of Caterpillar, Inc. stock. The complaint alleged petitioner had standing to request a declaration from the court regarding which of the four trust documents should be used to distribute the trust assets.

         ¶ 5 On October 22, 2015, a copy of the last will and testament of Ethel Marie Pryor, dated February 13, 2009, was filed with the trial court. The will left the residue of Ethel Pryor's property to "The Ethel Marie Pryor Family Trust, dated February 13, 2009." The record contains a document titled, "Amendment to the Ethel Marie Pryor Revocable Living Trust Agreement, " dated February 13, 2009, but does not contain a copy of the document referenced in the will as "The Ethel Marie Pryor Family Trust, dated February 13, 2009."

         ¶ 6 On December 9, 2015, petitioner filed a motion to appoint a special administrator of the estate pursuant to section 8-1(e) of the Probate Act of 1975 (Probate Act). 755 ILCS 5/8-1(e) (West 2014). In paragraph 13 of her motion, petitioner stated as follows:

"In this case, the actual Will is not being contested; rather, the Petitioner/Plaintiff seeks to have the court validate the Trust document that will become the instrument used to distribute the Estate of the decedent. There is an Original Trust, and three Amendments to the Trust. It is not established which is the proper instrument to distribute the estate, and there is no document that has been admitted to probate, either the Will or any of the Trusts, the original or the three amendments to the Original Trust."

         Petitioner asked the trial court to appoint a special administrator to "act in the matters pending before the Court, including [the] Petition for Declaratory Judgment to determine the proper instrument of distribution of the assets of the Estate of Ethel M. Pryor, deceased."

         ¶ 7 Both the estate and the respondent, Michael Pryor, filed separate responses, asking the court to deny the motion to appoint a special administrator pursuant to section 8-1(e) of the Probate Act, because this provision pertains to will contests under the Probate Act and petitioner's motion to appoint a special representative to act in the pending declaratory action conceded the decedent's will was not being contested by petitioner.

         ¶ 8 On March 18, 2016, petitioner filed an amended motion to appoint a special administrator of the estate pursuant to section 8-1(e) of the Probate Act. In a brief filed in support of petitioner's amended motion on September 19, 2016, petitioner clarified that she sought the appointment of a "special representative, " as opposed to a "special administrator." On September 23, 2016, the trial ...


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