Fifth District affirms circuit court's ruling in estate dispute

By Chandra Lye | Feb 14, 2019

MOUNT VERNON -- The Fifth District Appellate Court has affirmed a circuit court decision in a complaint involving the division of an estate. 

Little Pony Eagle died Oct. 12, 2012, leaving his two sisters, Two Star Eagle and Eagle Feather Barker, as his only heirs. Eagle Feather’s daughter, Monica Star Jerrells, was appointed by the circuit court as the estate administrator. However, the sisters later “terminated” that arrangement and oversaw the estate on their own. 

A dispute broke out between the parties about the length of time it was taking to distribute the estate. 

“Two Star alleged Jerrells breached her fiduciary and statutory duties in administrating the estate by, among other things, failing to timely disburse the estate’s assets to the heirs. On appeal Two Star argues that the circuit court erred in refusing to order Jerrells to pay interest to the estate,” according to the appellate court decision

“In addition, Two Star argues that the circuit court erred in failing to order Jerrells to pay all of her attorney fees that she incurred allegedly due to Jerrells’s breaches of her fiduciary and statutory duties.” 

Following Little Pony Eagle’s death, Jerrells attempted to liquidate the assets and put the funds into an estate account.   

However, “Two Star filed a petition for an estate inventory and accounting. In her petition, Two Star alleged that, upon information and belief, Jerrells had improperly distributed some estate property," the court filing states. "Two Star wanted the court to order Jerrells to provide an inventory of the estate’s assets and an accounting of the assets that she had received and distributed.”  

As such, Two Star filed a complaint based on a section of the Probate Act that states an estate representative will be required to pay 10 percent each year if they have not divided up the estate within two years of the death. However, the circuit court noted that Jerrells had made attempts to divide the estate but had run into complications.

“Over a nine-month period in 2013, Jerrells conducted yard sales on 13 different days in order to liquidate the personal belongings inside Pony’s residence and deposited the revenue generated from these sales into the estate’s checking account,” the appellate court ruling states. 

“Nothing establishes that, during this two-year period, Jerrells ever refused or denied any requests by Two Star for any information with respect to the administration of the estate or refused or denied any requests for an interim distribution of any estate assets beyond what she had distributed,” it continues.

“The circuit court considered the issues that Jerrells addressed before it terminated independent administration and concluded that the issues were beyond her control and, therefore, were good cause for not imposing an interest penalty,” the court decision states, noting they found no reason to overturn the lower court decision. 

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