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Trimble v. Gordon - A Small But Contentious Estate

court mona child deta

Sherman Gordon, a resident of Chicago, Illinois, was a victim of homicide at the age of 28 without a will. The sole asset of his estate was an automobile valued at $2500. While alive, Gordon had led a complicated personal life. He fathered an illegitimate child, Deta Mona Trimble, with Jessie Trimble in 1970, and Gordon and Trimble lived together from the time of Deta Mona's birth until Gordon's death. Gordon was legally acknowledged as Deta Mona's father, having a paternity order entered against him by the Circuit Court of Cook County on 2 January 1973 which required him to pay Trimble $15 per week for support of the child.

Shortly after Gordon's death Jessie Trimble filed with the Probate Division of the Circuit Court to determine Deta Mona's status as one of Gordon's heirs. The Probate Court found that Gordon's only heirs were his father, mother, siblings, and half siblings. Deta Mona was excluded as an heir under the terms of Chapter 12 of the Illinois State Probate Act, which held that, in the case of parents' death intestate (without a will), "an illegitimate child is heir of his mother and of any maternal ancestor, and of any person from whom his mother might have inherited, if living." Chapter 12 also stipulated that "a child who was illegitimate whose parents intermarry and who is acknowledged by the father as the father's child is legitimate." This latter clause is the crux of the case, in that had Deta Mona been legitimate she would have been first among Gordon's heirs. However, her status as an illegitimate child, noted under the terms of Chapter 12, left her ineligible to inherit any part of Gordon's estate.

Trimble appealed the case to the Illinois Supreme Court, which heard arguments on the matter on 24 September 1975. The state supreme court had already sustained the constitutionality of Chapter 12 in In re Estate of Karas (1975), however, so its affirmation of the decision of the circuit court in Trimble came as no surprise on 15 October 1975. Following this reversal, Trimble appealed her case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments on 7 December 1976.

Trimble v. Gordon - Discrimination Based On Legitimacy? [next]

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