Children sue step mother over inheritance

By Kelly Holleran | Jun 27, 2012


Three siblings claim their father's wife took land and other assets that rightfully belonged to them following his death.

Jan Billhartz, Jean Billhartz and Susan Zavaglia filed a lawsuit June 12 in St. Clair County Circuit Court against Marcia Billhartz.

The plaintiffs allege they were born to Warren and Norma Billhartz before the couple's divorce on Nov. 28, 1978.

"In lieu of seeking to maximize a settlement for herself, Norma negotiated for the protection of her children's future by ensuring 50% of Warren's assets at the time of his death passed on to the children in equal shares," the suit states.

Under the divorce agreement, when Warren Billhartz died, the Billhartz children should have received 50 percent of a stock in People's Bank of Albers, 50 percent of a stock in First National Bank of Collinsville, 50 percent of stock in Greenup National Bank and its holding company, half of his stock in Greenup National Corporation, half of the stock in First National Bank of Marine, 50 percent of the stock in First Bank of Maryville, half of the stock in Bank of New Baden, 50 percent of the 132 acres of farm property located in New Baden, half of the real estate located in Collinsville in which there is a service station and 50 percent of $30,000 in cash, the complaint says.

However, on Dec. 22, 1972, Warren Billhartz transferred 100 percent of all his assets into a trust fund, which was transferred to his estate. Following Warren Billhartz's death, the assets were transferred to Marcia Billhartz, Warren Billhartz's second wife, according to the complaint.

"Contrary to and in violation of the provisions of the Judgment and/or paragraph 11 of the Agreement, Warren's Will breached the Judgment and Agreement by failing to designate, provide, direct, transfer, give or mandate that 50 percent of Warren's estate, as set forth in Articles IV and V of the Will, was to be distributed to Ward, Jan, Jean and Susan in equal shares," the suit states.

When Warren Billhartz died on Aug. 21, 2006, all of his property went to Marcia Billhartz, the complaint says. Marcia Billhartz wrongfully accepted the assets, even though she knew of the plaintiffs' right to them, they claim.

It was not until early 2012 when the Billhartz children received a notice from the IRS that they realized the assets to which they were entitled, according to the complaint.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs seek a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction and eventually a permanent injunction that prohibits Marcia Billhartz from selling or destroying the 50 percent of Warren Billhartz's property owed to the plaintiffs. They also seek an order that requires Marcia Billhartz to provide an accounting regarding the property that belongs to Warren Billhartz. They also seek the share of Warren Billhartz's assets to which they are entitled, plus punitive damages, attorney's fees, costs and other relief the court deems just.

B. Jay Dowling of Sterling and Dowling in Fairview Heights and Lorraine Cavataio of Sandberg, Phoenix and von Gontard will be representing them.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number: 12-L-319.

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