In the case of In Re Estate of Burren, 2013 Ill App.(1st) 120996, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, affirmed the ruling of Judge Susan Coleman in the Cook County Circuit court invalidating a will contested by the decedents heirs in which the decedent’s attorney was unable to rebut the presumption that he exerted undue influence over his client and was ordered to repay $498,659.75 to his client’s estate along with prejudgment interest of $217,633.23.
In this case, the attorney, Steven Miner, was a close family friend of the decedent, Glenn Burren, as well as his attorney.In January 2004, Glenn signed a will appointing his attorney Steven as the executor. In addition, the will bequeathed the entire estate to his three children and Steven’s two children in five equal shares. In the years before Glenn passed away in 2007, he had had written checks totaling almost $500,000, payable to Steven.
After Glenn passed away, Steven petitioned the court to appoint him as executor under the will, which the court did. Glenn’s heirs contested the will and filed a petition to recover assets against Steven. The trial court ruled in favor of Glenn’s heirs, finding that there was a rebuttable presumption that Steven exerted undue influence over Glenn, in that Steven, as his attorney, had a fiduciary relationship with Glenn, Steven benefitted substantially from that fiduciary relationship, and Steven was instrumental in executing the will which benefitted him. Steven was unable to provide clear and convincing evidence that the decedent acted independent of his influence and that he did not receive a substantial benefit from the relationship.