In re the Estate of PowellAnnotate this Case
Powell was adjudicated a disabled adult due to severe mental disabilities in 1997. His parents, Perry and Leona, were appointed as co-guardians of Powell’s person, but were not appointed as guardians of his estate. In 1999, Perry died following surgery. Leona engaged the Wunsch law firm to bring a claim against the doctors and hospital, Leona was appointed special administratrix of Perry’s estate. Wunsch filed a complaint under the Wrongful Death Act on behalf of Leona individually and as administratrix estate. The estate’s only asset was the lawsuit. A 2005 settlement, after attorney fees and costs, amounted to $15,000, which was distributed equally between Leona, Emma (the couple’s daughter) and Powell. The settlement order provided that Powell’s share was to be paid to Leona on Powell’s behalf. Leona placed both shares into a joint account. The probate court was not notified. Wunsch had referred the action to attorney Webb, for continued litigation. Emma waived her rights under a second settlement, Leona and Powell each received $118,000. A check was deposited into the joint account. The order did not provide that Powell’s was to be administered under supervision of the probate court and Powell did not have a guardian of his estate. Wunsch purportedly advised that it was “too much trouble” to go through the probate court for funds every time Leona needed money for Powell. In 2008, Emma petitioned to remove Leona as guardian of Powell’s person. The probate court appointed Emma as guardian of Powell’s person and the public guardian as guardian of his estate. Leona had withdrawn all but $26,000 and provided no accounting. The public guardian sued the attorneys and Leona. The trial court dismissed as to the attorneys, finding that the complaint failed to sufficiently allege defendants owed Powell a duty and to allege proximate cause. The appellate court determined that an attorney retained by a special administrator of an estate to bring a wrongful death action for the benefit of the surviving spouse and next of kin owed a fiduciary duty to those beneficiaries and remanded, with respect to the second settlement. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed.