Chicago team of Hal Morris, Colleen Chinlund and Katelyn Miller secures decision for Illinois Appellate Court regarding heirship

Chicago team of Hal Morris, Colleen Chinlund and Katelyn Miller secures decision for Illinois Appellate Court regarding heirship
May 14, 2014

Arnstein & Lehr Chicago Partners Hal Morris and Colleen Chinlund, and Chicago Associate Katelyn Miller secured an important decision from the Illinois Appellate Court, First District. The case arose out of a petition to amend heirship filed by a Ukrainian individual claiming to be the sole heir of a decedent. The petition was based on an affidavit of the petitioner’s attorney suggesting that she was the great-niece of the decedent.  The petition was further based on birth certificates and marriage registrations that were “apostilled,” which is a certification procedure under the Hague Convention for authenticating documents used in foreign countries. 

At trial, the team established that the documents relied on by the petitioner were false and of no legal significance. In addition, the trial court refused to give comity to an ex parte order of the Ukrainian court finding that the petitioner was the heir of the decedent. On appeal, the Appellate Court agreed with the trial court and rejected the claim. The Appellate Court affirmed the finding of the team that their expert was properly qualified, the Ukrainian order was a nullity as it was ex parte and entered after the case was filed, but without notice to the estate, and that the trial court decision was factually proper.  In making this latter determination, the Appellate Court recognized that the trial court’s ruling was not against the manifest weight of the evidence as it was established that the pages in historic records relied upon by petitioner had been ripped out of and replaced into official records and used different ink than other records.  In a word, the court found the basis of the petition to be fraudulent. In addition, the Appellate Court rejected petitioner’s argument that she should be allowed to reopen the proofs. The case was closely followed by others in the probate community, including sitting judges, as there is widespread fraud with respect to Ukrainian nationals seeking to claim heirship in the U.S.