No Appellate Jurisdiction Over Trustee’s Appeal Filed Before Final Distribution Of Assets

After Eleanor Miller died, Melodee Miller-Hanson became the successor trustee of Eleanor’s trust. Melodee got into a dispute with the other beneficiaries of the trust, and they ended up suing each other. The beneficiaries wanted Melodee removed as trustee; Melodee wanted the beneficiaries disinherited.

Melodee’s counterclaim was dismissed. And with “a few specific exceptions that were to be assessed against Melodee’s final distribution share,” the trial court ruled against the beneficiaries in their claim against Melodee. Melodee later asked the court to grant her litigation expenses, which the court largely denied.

Under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(b)(1) [allowing an interlocutory appeal from a judgment or order entered in the administration of an estate, guardianship, or similar proceeding which finally determines a right or status of a party], Melodee appealed a number the trial court’s rulings in connection with her requests for fees and costs. But she filed her notice of appeal before the court ruled on a final distribution of the assets of the trust.

Arguing that the appeal was premature, the beneficiaries asked the Second District Illinois Appellate Court to dismiss the appeal. The appellate court agreed that Melodee’s appeal did not invoke appellate jurisdiction: there was no final order from which to appeal because the rights of the parties had not been established. Here is the court’s explanation:

… [T]he rights of the parties to the distribution of the trust assets had not been established by order of the court. While Melodee’s trustee fees had been set by the court, none of the beneficiaries, including Melodee, knew in what proportions the remaining trust assets would be divided … Clearly, no party’s rights regarding the trust were finalized …

To allow Melodee’s appeal at this point is to encourage piecemeal appeals; if we were to address this appeal and affirm the judgment, the execution [of the judgment] would not be the only thing remaining to be done … There was no final judgment from which to appeal, and no provision of Supreme Court Rule 304 applies. Therefore, we grant the plaintiff beneficiaries’ motion to dismiss …

The appellate court also ruled that Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(b)(1) did not apply to this case because the trial court’s “limited activity falls well short of the type of oversight involved in comprehensive proceedings like estate or guardianship proceedings.” Read the whole case, In re The Living Trusts of George C. Miller and Eleanor Miller, 2-07-0773 (12/14/09), by clicking here.

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