Saturday, June 27, 2009
At the time of Kathleen Savio's supposedly accidental drowning death in 2004, the final order in her divorce from Drew Peterson was pending. A hand written will named James Carrol, the uncle of Peterson, as the executor of her estate and left all of her property to Peterson. As executor, Carrol fired Savio's divorce attorney, appeared in the divorce pro se, and turned most of Savio's property over to Peterson. Carrol was discharged by the court upon completion of his duties and the estate was closed in 2006.
In March of 2008 Savio's father and siblings filed a petition to reopen the estate and remove Carrol as executor due to new evidence from Savio's exhumed body showing that her death was probably a homicide. The petition claimed that a wrongful death claim against Peterson and Carrol's poor performance as an executor supported their request. The trial court agreed and appointed Savio's father as the new executor.
The appellate court affirmed because the manifest weight of evidence supported the trial court's holding. First, the court held that the estate could be reopened because the wrongful death claim was a newly discovered asset of Savio's estate under the state's Wrongful Death Act. Under Illinois law, a newly discovered asset is one ground for reopening an closed estate. Second, the court held that Carrol's removal was justified because his actions in Savio's divorce case were contrary to the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries. Finally, although Savio's children were next in line to be appointed executor under Illinois law, the appellate court felt that a court would not likely allow the minor children's guardian, Peterson, to be appointed as executor. Since Savio's father was the proper choice after the children, the court upheld the appointment.
In re Estate of Savio, No. 04-P-118 (Ill. App. Ct. 3d Dist. Feb. 4, 2009).
Drew Peterson has since been charged with the death of Kathleen Savio. See AP, National Briefing: Midwest; Illinois: Ex-Officer Charged in Wife's Death, NY Times, May 8, 2009.
Thanks to James Krupp (Attorney, Krupp & Krupp, LLP, DeKalb, IL) for bringing this case to my attention.