Precedent-Setting Victory for Christopher Warmbold in the Illinois Supreme Court
Meyers & Flowers is proud to announce that attorney Christopher Warmbold secured justice for a former client through the Illinois Supreme Court, in the case of In re Estate of John W. McDonald III, 2022 IL 126956. Mr. Warmbold accomplished this rare feat by persuading the Illinois Supreme Court to reverse the Second District Appellate Court and declare that a ward under guardianship in Illinois must obtain the consent of his/her guardian before entering into a marriage. The triumph was announced in an opinion filed Thursday, April 21st bringing a 3-year legal battle to an end.
The underlying controversy at the heart of In re Estate of John W. McDonald, III was an heirship dispute that hinged on the validity of a marriage Mr. McDonald purportedly entered into five months before his death. John’s brother, Shawn, served as John’s plenary guardian at the time the claimed marriage occurred, and he disputed its legitimacy because it was entered into without his knowledge, or the knowledge of the probate court charged with vigilantly protecting John. Specifically, Shawn argued the marriage was void at its inception because John was a ward under a plenary guardianship and lacked the capacity to enter into a valid marriage because the probate court never determined the marriage to be in John’s best interest as required by Section 11a-17(a-10) of the Probate Act. The trial court agreed and granted Shawn’s motion for a directed finding at trial. The Second District Appellate Court reversed and ruled the Probate Act did not require a best interest determination before a ward could enter into a marriage. Shawn’s appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court followed.
In a 4-3 decision authored by Chief Justice Anne Burke joined by Justices Garman, Neville, and Michael Burke (Justices Theis, Overstreet and Carter concurring in part and dissenting in part), the Supreme Court reversed the Second District and affirmed the trial court, agreeing with Mr. Warmbold’s argument that a ward subject to a guardianship in Illinois, must first obtain the consent of his/her guardian before entering into a marriage pursuant to 755 ILCS 5/11a-17(a-10). In order for the guardian to obtain the ability to consent, a petition must be filed with the court and if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the marriage would be in the ward’s best interest, the court may authorize and direct the guardian to consent to the ward’s marriage. The Court held this conclusion to be in line with its prior decision in Karbin v. Karbin, 2012 IL 112815, which recognized the existence of a policy in the State of Illinois viewing disabled individuals as favored people in the eyes of the law who are entitled to vigilant protection. The Court further noted the creation of a guardianship fulfils this important public policy by promoting the well-being of the disabled person while protecting him/her from neglect, exploitation, or abuse.
According to Mr. Warmbold: “It was an honor to have been given the opportunity to argue before our State’s highest Court. By recognizing the critical safeguards set forth in Section 11a-17(a-10) of the Probate Act are requirements, the most vulnerable members of our society are ensured that their right to vigilant protection is a promise that will be kept.”
The Illinois Supreme Court’s opinion can be found here.
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