[UPDATED THROUGH May 9, 2013]
DeHart v. DeHart
Supreme Court Number: 114137
Appellate Court: Third District
Appellate Court Case Number: 3-09-0773
Issues Presented: (1) Did plaintiff adequately allege lack of testamentary capacity based on decedent's statement in his probated will that he had no children? (2) Did plaintiff sufficiently allege undue influence on the part of defendant, who held decedent's power of attorney? (3) Could plaintiff state a viable claim for fraudulent inducement while his will contest was still pending? (4) Did plaintiff adequately allege an oral contract to adopt? (5) Shall Illinois recognize the theory of equitable adoption, and if so, did plaintiff adequately allege such a theory?
Appellate Court Opinion Summary: In 2007, the circuit court of Will County admitted the will of defendant's decedent to probate and appointed defendant its independent executor. Plaintiff filed a will contest and sought to compel the deposition of decedent's attorney. Defendant objected on behalf of the estate, asserting attorney-client privilege, and the motion to compel was denied. In plaintiff's second amended complaint, he purports to allege claims for testator incapacity, undue influence, fraudulent inducement, and intentional interference with expectancy. Plaintiff alleged that decedent consistently held plaintiff out as his biological son. In addition, decedent allegedly provided plaintiff with a birth certificate listing decedent as plaintiff's father. Plaintiff requested a certified birth certificate in 2000 when applying for a passport, and the certified birth certificate listed another as his father. Nevertheless, decedent continued to insist that he was plaintiff's natural father, and that he had secretly adopted plaintiff when plaintiff was two years old. Several years later, plaintiff alleged that he had taken a family vacation with decedent and plaintiff's children, and that at the time, decedent's will made bequests for plaintiff and his children. Decedent married defendant in late 2005, when he was approximately 83 years old. One year later, he executed a will stating that he had no children, and not mentioning plaintiff. The circuit court granted defendant's motion to dismiss, but the Appellate Court reversed. With respect to the first count, the Court held that the decedent's statement in the will that he had no children was sufficient on motion to dismiss to plead a claim for lack of testator capacity. With respect to the second count, the Court held that plaintiff's allegations that defendant held decedent's power of attorney, together with allegations that she had participated in hiding an earlier will, were sufficient to plead a claim for undue influence. With respect to the third claim, against defendant in her personal capacity for fraudulent inducement, the court held that although the action might eventually be subject to dismissal if plaintiff's will contest was successful, dismissal was premature. The Court also held that the complaint had adequately alleged the existence of a contract to adopt between decedent and plaintiff's mother, as well as approving (for the first time in Illinois) the theory of equitable adoption as a viable cause of action. Finally, because lack of capacity was at issue, the court held that the motion to compel the attorney's deposition should have been granted. Justice McDade specially concurred, holding that although he believed that plaintiff had waived both his lack of testamentary capacity claim and his fraudulent inducement claim, he would exercise the court's discretion to ignore the waiver, and joined in the court's reversals as to those claims. Justice McDade dissented from the approval of a theory of equitable adoption, opining that it was unnecessary. Presiding Justice Schmidt dissented from the reversal of the count claiming a contract to adopt, arguing that the contract had not been adequately pled.