Woman and son sue father's second wife over inheritance

Andrea Dearden Jun. 28, 2012, 1:56am

A Collinsville woman and her son are suing the second wife of her ex-husband after she allegedly tried to hide an inheritance from his children.

Ward Billhartz, individually and as the attorney-in-fact of his mother, Norma Billhartz, filed a lawsuit June 14 against Marcia Billhartz in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

Norma says she and Warren Billhartz were married in December 1955 and divorced in November 1978. The couple had four children: Ward, Jan, Jean and Susan. In the divorce decree entered in Madison County Circuit Court, Norma allegedly agreed to a lesser portion of the couple's marital assets in exchange for a provision that required Warren to leave 50 percent of his estate to their children at the time of his death.

Ward Billhartz's siblings, Jan Billhartz, Jean Billhartz and Susan Zavaglia filed a similar lawsuit against Marcia Billhartz on June 12 in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

Those assets included stock in several local banks, a gas station in Collinsville and up to $30,000, according to the complaint. The judgment allegedly stipulated that 50 percent of Warren's estate would be held in a constructive trust for the benefit of the couple's four children in equal shares, setting up a fiduciary relationship between Warren and his kids.

In September 1979, Warren married Marcia and, contrary to the divorce decree, allegedly transferred all interest in his estate to a trust, naming he and Marcia as joint tenants. In September 2000 Warren allegedly, in the drafting of his last will and testament, failed to provide that 50 percent of his estate would be distributed to his four children equally. Warren died in August 2006 with Marcia becoming the co-trustee of the trust she and Warren established in December 1992, the complaint reads.

Ward Billhartz contends he had no knowledge of the 50 percent provision in the 1978 divorce agreement but says Marcia did. Ward claims in June 2007 Marcia told him that unless he agreed to the funding of her share of the trust and waived his rights to any other claim to the estate, she would not be distributing any of the trust assets to Ward or his siblings.

Ward alleges he and his sisters only found out about the 50 percent provision in early 2012 from the Internal Revenue Service as part of litigation related to the estate tax return. He accuses Marcia of trying to conceal the facts of the divorce agreement and Ward's rights to the estate of his father so she could keep that money for herself.

Ward, individually and on behalf of his mother, is asking for a temporary restraining order and an injunction to prevent Marcia from using or transferring 50 percent of the estate and requiring her to provide an accounting of Warren's estate from 1978 to the present.

Ward also accuses Marcia of tortious interference, fraud, conversion and civil conspiracy. They ask for an undisclosed amount in punitive damages plus court costs.

Attorney Jon E. Rosenstengel of Belleville represents Ward and Normal Billhartz.

St. Clair County Circuit Court Case No. 12-L-322

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