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Chuhak & Tecson Wins 'doctrine Of Election' Estate Case At Illinois Supreme Court

CHICAGO, April 9, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- In a case of first impression argued by David Feinberg at Chuhak & Tecson, P.C., the Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that the doctrine of election pertaining to last wills is not necessarily the last word in court challenges to a living trust amendment.

The 6-1 judgment reversed two lower court decisions in Estate of Robert E. Boyar v. Grant Dixon, 2013 IL 113655. The case was presented by Chuhak & Tecson principals David Feinberg, Barry Feinberg and Daniel Fumagalli, and marked the first time the Illinois Supreme Court has dealt with the doctrine of election in almost 60 years.

In its April 4, 2013, opinion, the Supreme Court reversed both the circuit and appellate court decisions applying the doctrine of election as it relates to wills to an amendment to a trust. The upper court departed from the earlier judgments of the lower court in ruling that Boyar v. Dixon should not have been based on the doctrine of election or dismissed in circuit court. It ruled the appellate court also was in error in upholding the dismissal.

Dismissal in both proceedings had been based on a bright line interpretation of the doctrine of election, a case law principle that precludes a beneficiary to a will from contesting any part of the will if property has already been received.

"In this instance, our client had received nominal personal property that was owned by his father's revocable living trust," said David Feinberg, who argued the case. "Both the circuit court and appellate court ruled that because he had accepted the benefit, the client was foreclosed from contesting any part of his father's trust, including an amendment that had nothing to do with property issues."

Drafted less than a month before the death of the testator and without the knowledge of the beneficiaries, the amendment in question involved the designation of a new successor trustee. The amendment replaced both the Northern Trust and the testator's son, Robert A. Boyar, as co-trustees, with a neighbor, Grant Dixon, as sole trustee.  In addition, the amendment also provided that a majority of the income beneficiaries of the trust could not remove Grant Dixon as sole trustee.  

Feinberg argued, and the court agreed, that there was no inconsistency between Boyar's and other family members' receipt of personal property and his challenge to the amendment naming a new trustee—and that in any case, the doctrine of election should be applied on a case-by-case basis rather than as a bright line rule.

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