Harris Trust and Savings Bank v. Beach
118 Ill. 2d 1, 513 N.E.2d 833 (1987)

  • Frank and Alice entered a prenup and then got married. The prenup created a trust filled with stock that was to give Alice income for life. She could also take up to $50k in trust assets.
    • If Alice died first, the trust reverted to Frank. If Frank died first, the trust was to be distributed to Frank’s heirs, “share and share alike.”
      • The gift to Frank’s heirs-at-law is a class gift.
  • Frank made a second trust for Alice with similar terms.
  • Frank died. Alice went on to live for another 51 years.
    • At the time of Frank’s death, his heirs included Alice, his two children, Dorothy and Ellen, and his grandchildren Frances, Charles, and Robert (all Ellen’s children).
      • Alice was prevented from taking a share due to the prenup.
    • At the time of Alice’s death, Frank’s living descendants included Frances and Robert, and Charles’ kids, Charles Jr., Sallie, and Edward.
      • (by this time Ellen, Dorothy, all Dorothy’s heirs, and Charles were all dead)
  • The trustees petitioned the Court to determine who to give the money to.
    • If Frank’s heirs are to be construed as those alive when Frank died, then the estate would pass to the estates of his daughters, since the gifts would have vested at the point of Frank’s death.
      • Dorothy had bequeathed all of her assets to some charities.
    • If Frank’s heirs are to be construed as those alive when Alice died, Dorothy’s estate would receive nothing and Charles’ kids would get something because the gift to Dorothy would have lapsed (since she had no kids), while the gift to Ellen would go to her children via anti-lapse.
      • In addition, should the money be distributed per stirpes or per capita?
        • If it goes per stirpes, then the trust gets split three ways (for each of Ellen’s children), and Charles’ kids would have to split a single share.
        • If it goes per capita, then each of the 5 living descendants gets 1/5. (Ellen’s two living kids and three living grandkids)
  • The Illinois Supreme Court found that the money should be distributed to those alive at Alice’s death.
    • The Illinois Supreme Court found that the trust revolved around Alice and her life. Although Frank was the settlor he wasn’t really involved in the trust. Therefore, Alice’s central role is indicative of Frank’s intent to make her and not himself the point of reference for determining heirs.
      • Also, since Frank was 20 years older than Alice, he must have expected that the trust would last a long time after his death.
      • Also, the Court reasoned that since Alice could take $50k, and there might be less than $50k in the trust at the time, Alice might have reduced trust assets to zero, and it wouldn’t make sense to fix the beneficiaries of a trust until it could be determined that there were even assets to be distributed.
      • “We hold that because the primary reason for early vesting is no longer as important as it formerly was, proof by preponderance of evidence of the evidence of that the settlor, testator, or donor intended to use the term ‘heirs’ in its non-technical sense is sufficient to delay the vesting of a gift to a time other than at the grantor’s death.”
    • The Illinois Supreme Court found that the money should be distributed per stirpes. Therefore, Frank’s grandchildren (Frances and Robert) each get a share, and Charles’ kids (Charles Jr., Sallie, and Edward) all get to split Charles’ share.
      • Basically, the Courts will always construe a per stirpes distribution unless there is clear evidence of the settlor’s intent to create a per capita distribution, which the Court concluded there wasn’t.
  • The Uniform Probate Code would agree that Alice’s death should be the time that the heirs should be determined.
    • Previous to the Uniform Probate Code, the common law would have held just the opposite, that the money should be distributed based on the heirs at Frank’s death.