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Estate Planning & Probate Law FLASHPOINTS August 2019

August 15, 2019Print This Post Print This Post

Elizabeth A. Garlovsky, Lesser Lutrey Pasquesi & Howe LLP, Lake Forest
847-235-6745 | E-mail Elizabeth A. Garlovsky

Slayer Statute Does Not Automatically Prevent Man Charged and Found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity of Causing His Girlfriend’s Death from Receiving Benefits from Her Estate

In In re Estate of Ivy, 2019 IL App (1st) 181691 (a complex and lengthy, but as yet unpublished opinion), the Illinois appellate court recently wrestled with the issue of whether a person charged with first-degree murder and found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) can defeat a claim — under the Illinois “Slayer Statute,” 755 ILCS 5/2-6 — brought by the decedent’s estate in the probate court and proceed to collect benefits from the estate. The specific issue addressed in Ivy was whether the decedent’s boyfriend (MF) of more than 30 years was “barred by collateral estoppel from contesting that he ‘intentionally and unjustifiably’ caused decedent’s death under . . . the Slayer Statute.” 2019 IL App (1st) 181691 at ¶1. This would prevent him from collecting assets intended for him pursuant to testamentary documents, including certain beneficiary designations, left behind by decedent.

Throughout his relationship with the decedent, MF suffered from schizophrenia but controlled it with medication. In the summer of 2013, and into the early fall, MF encountered issues getting his medication and his mental health took a serious downturn. On October 9, 2013, while in the throes of a psychiatric episode, MF took a knife to the decedent’s home and stabbed her multiple times, causing her death. MF was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder, in addition to another charge of concealment of a homicide. Expert testimony that MF was insane at the time of the murder was offered at the criminal trial by three separate psychiatrists, which led to the criminal court’s finding of NGRI on all counts.

The decedent died intestate, but she named MF as a beneficiary on several nonprobate assets and accounts and also had established a special-needs trust for him. Three years after the decedent’s death, the administrator of her estate (her nephew), citing the Slayer Statute provisions of the Illinois Probate Code, sought to disqualify MF from receiving any benefits from the decedent or her estate and deem him to have predeceased the decedent. The estate’s amended petition alleged that MF should be disqualified from receiving the benefits because the Slayer Statute provides, in relevant part:

A person who intentionally and unjustifiably causes the death of another shall not receive any property, benefit, or other interest by reason of the death, whether as heir, legatee, beneficiary, joint tenant, survivor, appointee or in any other capacity. . . . A person convicted of first degree murder or second degree murder of the decedent is conclusively presumed to have caused the death intentionally and unjustifiably for purposes of this Section. [Emphasis added.] 755 ILCS 5/2-6.

There was a hearing as to whether the estate should be granted a motion for judgment on the pleadings; the motion was denied by the probate court. The probate court found that because of the NGIS finding, whether MF “intentionally and unjustifiably” caused decedent’s death, for purposes of the Slayer Statute, was a question of material fact and, therefore, that he was entitled to a hearing on the same.2019 IL App (1st) 181691 ¶16.

Discovery that ensued in the probate matter included a deposition of one of the same expert witnesses in the criminal case. The expert testified to what she said at that trial, which led to her opinion that MF was legally insane. Following discovery in the probate matter, the estate motioned the court for summary judgment. In its order granting the motion, the probate court (1) took judicial notice of the charges against MF in the criminal case and the subsequent adjudication of MF as NGRI, (2) concluded that the adjudication of MF’s “mental state” in the criminal case was a final judgment on the merits of the first-degree murder charges and satisfied the requirement in the Slayer Statute that MF “intentionally and justifiably” caused the decedent’s death, and (3) found that the doctrine of collateral estoppel, therefore, barred MF from relitigating that issue in the probate court.

MF appealed the order granting summary judgment and argued that the doctrine of collateral estoppel was misapplied by the probate court. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s order granting summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

In its opinion, the appellate court held that (1) it could not conclude that the plain language of the Slayer Statute includes a finding that NGRI was equivalent to a first-degree murder conviction, which would thereby “conclusively” bar MF from receiving property from the estate of decedent; (2) based on the court’s finding that the NGRI finding in the criminal trial did not bar MF from inheriting assets from the decedent, that the doctrine of collateral estoppel did not apply with respect to whether MF “intentionally and unjustifiably” caused the decedent’s death for purposes of the Slayer Statute; and (3) MF introduced evidence to the probate court that disputed the facts, alleged by the estate, that he intended to cause the decedent’s death. As such, the estate was not entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Id.

New and Notable in Estate Planning and Probate Statutes

Help for immigrant youth and their families. P.A. 101-120 amended the following sections of the Probate Act: 755 ILCS 5/11-1, 5/11-5, 5/11-5.3, 5/11-5.4, 5/11-8, 5/11-8.1, and 5/11-13.1. The amendments were adopted to provide added protection for parents who may not be able to care for their minor children due to an “administrative separation,” which is defined in the Act, and refers to instances when the separation is a result of federal detainment or deportation. The provisions of the amendments expand the court’s authority with respect to the appointment of a guardian or standby guardian under these circumstances, and also allows a short-term guardianship to be extended up to 365 days (without a court order). These amendments were signed by Governor Pritzker on July 23, 2019, and effective immediately upon signing.

Uniform Partition of Heirs Property (UPHP) Act. H.B. 3677, 101st Gen.Assem. (2019), amends the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure and introduces new mandatory procedures for dealing with real estate partition cases when the property subject to partition is deemed “heirs’ property” as defined in the UPHP Act. In a nutshell, property will be deemed “heirs’ property” if a certain percentage of title to the property is vested in individuals who are related to each other, and there is no agreement that exists with respect to partition of the property. The UPHP Act provides a road map for the court, and the cotenants of the property, for the sale of the property either to one of the cotenants or a third party for fair market value. The UPHP Act has a drop date of August 27, 2019, and is effective immediately.

The Illinois Trust Code. The wait is over: On July 12, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed P.A. 101-48 and codified the Illinois Trust Code (ITC). The ITC will create significant new law for trusts in Illinois, replacing long-standing statutes and common law, including the Illinois Trust and Trustees Act. The ITC is an adaptation, not a formal adoption, of the Uniform Trust Code. Significant changes, especially with respect to trustees’ obligations to beneficiaries (such as the duty to account and inform) are included in the ITC. The ITC becomes effective January 1, 2020.

For more information about estate planning and probate, see ESTATE PLANNING IN ILLINOIS GUARDIANSHIPS — 2018 EDITION, available for pre-order here. Online Library subscribers can view it for free by clicking here. If you don’t currently subscribe to the Online Library, visit www.iicle.com/subscriptions.

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