In In re Estate of Doman, the Illinois Appellate Court issued a ruling on October 11, 2012 that helps to clarify the importance of a Will in a marriage and a divorce, and potentially, a revocable trust, depending on circumstances.
Trial Court Proceedings:
In the Doman case, when Mark Doman died on July 4, 2011, his wife Sara and he were in the home stretch of their divorce. The trial court had issued a written dissolution judgment and reserved ruling on the additional issues on June 10, the status hearing was set for July 11. On July 5, Sara’s attorney called the court and informed the trial court of Mark’s death. The trial court then entered a docket that state, “Cause set for 7/11/11 is vacated. Cause is dismissed.”
Probate Court Proceedings:
Sara filed a petition in the probate court on September 28, 2011 stating that their divorce proceedings were dismissed and that she was Mark’s surviving spouse. She was seeking appointment as administrator of Mark’s estate. On October 13, Sara’s daughter Aimee (Sara’s child from a prior marriage whom Mark legally adopted) filed a counter argument. Aimee argued that the trial court’s June dissolution judgment on grounds only was a final judgment.
After the probate court found that the July 5 order dismissed only the additional issues and not the dissolution itself, Aimee and her sister Bethany (also adopted by Mark) were appointed as co-administrators or Mark’s estate, not Sara. Sara then appealed.
Appellate Court Proceedings:
The trial court’s order was interpreted by the Appellate Court as a dismissal of the entire divorce proceedings. “To find otherwise would lead to the unjust result of depriving [Sara] of both her marital right to a division in divorce and her spousal right to property under the Probate Act.” The Appellate Court also cited another case, stating that “A dissolution judgment is not final for purposes of appeal until all ancillary [additional] issues have been resolved.” The Appellate Court ruled that Sara was entitled to the share of Mark’s estate that a surviving spouse would have gotten.
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