From FB: Stunning Ill. Appellate court decision kicks out thousands of pro se executors from Illinois court rooms–and may invalidate hundreds of estates now pending

In re Carol Matteson

Two years ago Carol Matteson died intestate leaving a couple of trailers worth $40k each and numerous small bank accounts and a pension fund.  Her son Danny Houlihan went to open his mother’s estate because his sister had gained control over the trailers and emptied out the bank accounts–for herself.

Son Danny is elderly, indigent and disabled.  He could not find or afford an attorney to handle his mother’s estate.  So he filed to open up an estate before Judge Malone who told him to get an attorney several times, but no attorney would touch the estate because it was under a $100k and the legal fees to recover small amounts of money stolen would exceed the amounts recovered.

Only Justice Hyman showed any real sense in all of this and wrote a stinging dissent that closing the door to the courthouse for perhaps several thousand pro se clients opening up small estates and requiring attorneys is simply going down the wrong path to lawlessness and fomenting long standing feuds in families where one person is allowed to steal an estate with impunity.

It’s long pst the time when pro se litigants are treated as second class or even non citizens.  If the court determines that an executor is not doing his job, others have the right to remove him.  That is the right way to ensure the greatest amount of justice in Illinois courtrooms.


for  the decision: (please excuse any OCR errors)

Second Division
~ I )  Daniel Houlihan, a non-attorney proceeding pro se, petitioned the circuit court to open an estate for his mother, Carol Mattson, and for issuance of letters of administration, appointing him as independent administrator of her estate. The circuit court denied his petition without prejudice because Daniel, as a non-attorney, could not represent the legal interests of lUl estate in a pro se capacity. Daniel now appeals.

In February 2017, Daniel filed a petition for letters of administration in the probate
division of the circuit court, which stated that Carol Mattson (Decedent), died on May 4, 2016, leaving no will. According to the petition, Decedent’s heirs were her three surviving children, namely, Daniel Houlihan, Brian Houlibail2 and Deborah Soraghan. Initially, the circuit court struck Daniel’s petition when he failed to aPpear in court to present it. Daniel subsequently filed a pro se motion for “permission to proceed in [the] process for] opening the ESTATE OF CAROL JOAN MATTSON.” On three separate occasions thereafter, the court· advised Daniel
. .
that he could not represent the legal interests of an estate as a non-attorney and continued the case in order “for [an] attorney to appear.” Instead, Daniel filed a pro se motion to “Appoint Son Daniel Houlihan [ as] Independent Administrator” of Decedent’s estate. Despite its prior orders. the court nonetheless continued the case “for [an] attorney to appear.”
~ 4 Ultimately, the court denied Daniel’s petition without prejudice on March.l5. 2018,
because he failed to obtain counsel to represent Decedent’s estate and could not represent the legal interests ot’ her estate as a non-attorney pursuant to Ratcliffe v. Apantaku. 318 Ill. App. 3d 621 (2000). Daniel has not retained counsel and is representing Decedent’s interests in this matter pro se as he did below. For the reasons to follow, we strike his brief and dismiss the appeal.
~ 6 An individual not duly authorized to practice law cannot represent another 41 a court of . We note that there is no respondent-appellee in this case. As such, we will consider the merits of this appeal based on the record and petitioner-appellant’s brief only. See First Capitol Mortgage Corp. v. Talandis Construction Corp., 63 111. 2d 128, 133 {I 976).
.’We note that Daniel’s brief indicates Brian Houlihan died in February 2018.
No. 1-18-0805
law. 70SlLCS 20511 (West 2016); Ratcliffe, 318 Ill. App. 3d at 625 (citing Blue v. People, 223
JIJ. App. 3d 594, 596 (1992». Thus, although a pro se litigant is entitled to represent his own personal interests, a non-attorney cannot represent another’s legal interests on behalf of that in Qividual. Ratcliffe, 318 lll. App. 3d at 626; National Bank of Austin v. First Wisconsin National Bank of Milwaukee, 53 IlL App. 3d 482, 488-89 (1977). Moreover, this rule includes a nonattorney seeking to personally to represent the legal interests of an estate. See Ratcliffe” 318 Ill. App. 3d at 626 (citing Waite v. Carpenter, I Neb. App. 321, 328 (1992» (stating, ” ‘[t]his is not to say that personal representatives must be attorneys. but, rather, that one who seeks to represent the legal interests of the personal representative must be an’attorney’ “). In addition, where one not licensed to practice law has instituted legal proceedings on behalf of another, the suit should be dismissed. Blue, 223 Ill. App. 3d at 596; Lake Shore Management Co. l’. Blum,92 Ill. App. 2d 47.50 (1968). ,7 Based on the foregoing; Daniel cannot represent the legal interests of Decedent’s estate in a pro se capacity, either in this court or in the action below, since he is not a licensed attorney or
a party to this suit. See 70S !LCS 20511 (West’ 20 16); Ratcliffe, 318 Ill. App. 3d at 627; ,Blue, 223 Ill. App. 3d at 595-96. Additionally, the suit should be dismissed because Daniel, as a nonattorney, has impermissibly institUted legal proceedings on behalf of another, i.e., the estate of Carol Mattson. This occurred when he filed motions pro se for “permission to proceed in [the] process [of] opening the ESTATE OF CAROL JOAN MAITSON,” and to “Appoint Son Daniel Houlihan [as] Independent Administrator” of Decedents estate, in addition to filing the present pro se appeal We note the dissent relies in part on the “petitions for letters of administration forms” in arguing that the denial of Daniel’s petition was improper. Not only are these documents from other counties and thus, inapplicable, but the rationale quite literally elevates
No. 1-18-0805
“forms” over substance, as the statutory language directly contradicts the analysis. 705 ILCS 205/1 (West 2016). And from Daniel’s brief, it is apparent that he seeks not only to pursue his petition to appoint an independent administrator pro se, but also intends, as independent administration’, to pursue claims against his sister for allegedly dissipating estate assets. Even our dissenting colleague would agree that Daniel cannot pursue the latter course pro se. Accordingly, the appeal is dismissed and the judgment of the circuit court is affirmed.
119 For the” reasons set forth above, we strike Daniel’s brief and dismiss the appeal. See Bille, 223 Ill. App. 3d at 596·97 (striking the briefs by a non-attorney pro se filed on behalf of another).
1110 Appeal dismissed ; Circuit court judgment affirmed.
1111 JUSTICE HYMAN dissenting~
1112 This appeal involves a barrier to accessing the civil justice system that does not exist. ”
llt3 Daniel Houlihan filed a pro se petition in the trial court seeking appointment as
administrator of his, mother’s estate. The trial court dismissed the petition, without prejudice, finding Daniel “cannot represent the legal interest of an entity in a pro se capacity because he is not an attorney licensed to practice law.” At this preliminary stage, Daniel is not representing the legal interests of his mother’ estate, as he has not yet been appointed administrator. He represents his own interest in serving as administrator, and need not need to hire an attorney to file the petition.
Thus, I dissent from the majority’s decision to affirm the trial court’s order denying Daniel’s pro se petition for letters of administration and would remand for further proceedings. I also dissent from the decision to dismiss Daniel’s appeal and to strike his brief.
1114 The Majority’s Decision
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‘II J 5 As the majority notes, a self-represented litigant can represent his or her own interests, but a non-attorney cannot represent the interests of another. Blue v. People, 223 Ill. App. 3d 594, 596 (1992». Under the “nullity rule,” a court may dismiss a case jf a person who is not licensed ‘to practice law attempts to represent another party in legal proceedings. Applebaum v, Rush University Medical Center, 231 lIi. 2d 429,435 (citing Ford Motor Credit Co. v. Sperry, 214 Ill. 2d 371 (2005). As our supreme court explained, the purpose of the nullity or voidness rule” ‘is'” * *, to protect litigants against the mistakes of the ignorant and the schemes of the unscrupulous and to protect ‘the court itself in the administration of its proceedings from those lacking requisite skills.’ ” ld. (citing Sperry, 214 Ill. 2d at 389-90 (2005) (quoting Janiczek v. Dover Management Co., 134 Ill. App. 3d 543,546 (1985).
‘1116 Both the majority and trial court cite to RatclijJe v. Apantaku, 318 Dl. App. 3d 621
(2008). There, the appellate court applied the nullity rule to dismiss a pro se wrongful death complaint filed by a special administrator on behalf of her mother’s estate. The appellate court found that the daughter brought the claims for damages in a representative capacity for the benefit of the decedent’s estate. ld. at 626-27. And, because a non-attorney may not represent the legal interests of another, the court dismissed the self-represented litigant’s complaint. The court also found that medical malpractice and wrongful death actions cases are “complex cases that require the expertise of an attorney.” ld.
OJ!7 In reaching its decision, the Ratcliffe court relied on Blue v. People, 223 ill. App. 3d 594 (1992). In Blue, a self-represented litigant made a complaint for an order of habeas corpus in the name of his, minor child, alleging the child’s mother had custody in violation of due process of ‘law. The trial court dismissed the complaint under section 2-619(a) (3) of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (7~5 ILCS 5/2-619(a) (3) (West 2016), because of a separate pending case
No. 1-18-0805
between the same parties for the same cause. The appellate oourt, however, dismissed the appeal and vacated the circuit court’s judgment. Blue, 223 m. App. 3d at 597.
18 Citing the nullity rule, the court stated that “[o ]ne not duly authorized to practice law may not represent another in a court of law.” ld. at 596. “Where one not licensed to practice law has instituted legal proceedings on behalf of another. the suit should be dismissed; if the suit has proceeded to judgment, the judgment is void and will be reversed. [Citation omitted].” ld The court concluded the self-represented father, who was not authorized to practice law, could not  represent the interests of his son. The court also reasoned that a minor, who lacks the capacity to represent himself, should have the protection and expertise of an attorney. ld
19 Ratcliffe and Blue, however, do not support dismissal of Daniel’s petition. In both
Ratcliffe and Blue, the plaintiffs sought to bring pro se claims on behalf of another. In Ratcliffe a daughter, who had not yet been appointed administrator, wanted to sue on behalf of her deceased mother. In Blue, a father wanted to file a claim on beha1f of his minor son. Conversely, Daniel is not representing his mother or her estate. Daniel filed his petition under section 9-4 of the Probate Act, which permits “[a lnyone desiring to have letters of administration issued on the estate of an intestate decedent shall file a petition therefor in the oourt of the proper county.” 75’5
ILeS 5/9-4 (West 2016). Daniel seeks only letters of administration, which, if granted, would then permit him to act on the behalf of his mother’s estate. But, until appointed, he represents himself alone.
~ 20 According to Daniel’s brief, he has a sister and two deceased brothers, one of whom has two children. Daniel’s sister and his brother’s children are entitled to notice and may appear to oppose his appointment as administrator. 755 ILCS 5/9-5 (West 2016) (copy of petition must be mailed with time and place of hearing to heirs entitled to administer or nominate a person to
. -6-
No. 1-18-0805
administer estate). If, after a hearing, the trial court grants Daniel’s petition, he may act on behalf of the estate. Until then, Daniel and his sister, if she too seeks letters of administration, act on behalf of themselves as potential administrators of the estate and nothing in the Probate Act requires the hiring of an attorney to pursue those interests.

21 Notably, circuit courts in other Illinois counties permit self-presented petitions for letters of administration, as evidenced by the forms made available to the public on county court websites. The petitions for letters of administration forms in in DuPage County, Kane County, Lake County, and elsewhere include a box labeled “pro se,” which plainly permit the petitioning party to file tJ:te petition without hiring a lawyer. See
https://www.dupageco.orgfCourtClerklCourtFormsl. (DuPage County), (Kane Comity),
1?! p-30-(rev-12-l7 )0328bae006ca6cf291 ebfftJOOOdce829.pdf?sfvrsn=2 (Lake County).
Interestingly, the form on the Cook County circuit court website does not similarly provide for a pro se petitioner to sign the petition. See
http://www.cookcountvclerkofcourt,orgIF011l1s1pdf fileslCCPN302.pdf.
~ 22 Given the absence of caselaw to support its holding or a circuit court rule prohibiting a petitioner from filing a pro se petition for letters of administration, I can only surmise the trial court may have applied an informal rule applied in Cook County that prohibits pro se petitions for letters of administration, If so, the practice should be abandoned, as it has no basis in law.
Further, it would violate due process to permit petitioners in other counties to file petitions pro se, while petitioners in Cook County must hire an attorney to file the petition.
,23 Daniel well may want to hire an attorney if he successfully petitions for appointment as administrator. But, until then, he represents no interests of the estate and neither the nullity rule nor the, cases cited by ‘the majority support dismissing his petition. Thus, I would reverse the trial court’s order and remand for further proceedings on Daniel’s pro se petition for letters of administration.
,24 Striking Appellant’s Brief
~125 I also dissent from the majority’s decision to strike Daniel’s brief. The majority dismisses Daniel’s appeal and strikes his brief on the grounds that he cannot appear pro se in the trial court or before this court. As noted, I disagree with the conclusion that, at this stage, Daniel represents any interest other than his own in being appointed administrator. Thus, I would not dismiss his appeal or strike his brief.
,,26 Moreover, by striking the brief, the appellate court effectively closes the courthouse ,door to a pro se appellant, like Daniel, Who thinks the trial court got it wrong. This punishes Daniel twice, once for not having hired an attorney- first by the trial court, which dismissed his petition on the grounds, improperly I contend, and’then in this court Where he may not appear pro se to present his arguments, Thus, I would not strike his brief but permit Daniel to present his arguments and have the appeal decided on the merits.

From Joanne;

there is no reason why Daniel cannot be a pro se administrator of his mother’s estate.  In such a position he is just standing in his mother’s shoes to carry out what she put in her will, or if there is no will, then he will distribute the estate according to the statute on distribution with the assistance of the probate court. There is no reason to think that a son cannot do what his mother would have done if she were alive and had to give away all her assets.

This decision is an absolute travesty of justice and a slap in the face to indigent pro se litigants everywhere.

Now only the rich can keep an inheritance from being stolen.

Nice going.


3 thoughts on “From FB: Stunning Ill. Appellate court decision kicks out thousands of pro se executors from Illinois court rooms–and may invalidate hundreds of estates now pending

  1. Shocking that anyone would even think of denying our right to represent ourselves in probate court. Something like this happened to me when my father died intestate. I hired a cheapo attorney who totally screwed up the case and I was only even able to reach a settlement with my greedy sister by representing myself and scaring her into a settlement — because her strategy was to let her attorney-husband do all the heavy lifting, thinking I couldn’t afford to fight back. Thank goodness for pro se!

    • Yep this is one stupid, stupid decision. Not only did they say a pro se person can’t be an executor or personal representative of the decedent, but they also said a pro se Petition for Letters of Office is invalid and a nullity! who doesn’t know the greedy relative that rushes right from the funeral to the court house to open an estate, often without a lawyer and then gets one later. This is nuts. Off to the Supreme Court!

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