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Trimble v. Gordon

A Small But Contentious Estate, Discrimination Based On Legitimacy?, Impact, Heirs And Inheritance Laws


Deta Mona Trimble, et al.


Sherman Gordon, et al.

Appellants' Claim

That Chapter 12 of the Illinois State Probate Act, which allowed illegitimate children to inherit property only from their mother in the event of their parents' death without a will, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Chief Lawyer for Appellants

James D. Well

Chief Lawyer for Appellees

Miles N. Beermann

Justices for the Court

William J. Brennan, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Lewis F. Powell, Jr. (writing for the Court), John Paul Stevens, Byron R. White

Justices Dissenting

Harry A. Blackmun, Warren E. Burger, Potter Stewart, William H. Rehnquist


Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

26 April 1977


Reversed the decision of the Illinois Supreme Court and ruled Chapter 12 of the Illinois State Probate Act unconstitutional.


The ruling marked a reversal of the Court's view of the right of illegitimate children to inherit, which had been set forth in Labine v. Vincent (1971). While Trimble v. Gordon seemed to guarantee equal protection for illegitimate children with regard to inheritance, this position was once again altered by the Court's judgement in Lalli v. Lalli, (1978).

Related Cases

  • Labine v. Vincent, 401 U.S. 532 (1971).
  • In re Estate of Karas, 61 Illinois 2d 40, 329 N.E. 2d 234 (1975).
  • Mathews v. Lucas, 427 U.S. 495 (1976).
  • Lalli v. Lalli, 439 U.S. 259 (1978).


West's Encyclopedia of American Law. St. Paul, MN: West Group, 1998.

Further Readings

  • Biskupic, Joan, and Elder Witt, eds. Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1993.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980