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Because § 12 of the Illinois Probate Act excludes categories of illegitimate children unnecessarily, it is constitutionally flawed.
Upholding the constitutionality of § 12 of the Illinois Probate Act’s distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children for purposes of intestate succession, under which distinction illegitimate children were allowed to inherit only from their mothers, while legitimate children were permitted to inherit from both their mothers and fathers, the Probate Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, excluded from heirship appellant Deta Mona Trimble, the illegitimate daughter of an intestate father. Thereafter, appellant and her mother sought review of the Circuit Court's decision in the state courts, and ultimately, the Supreme Court of Illinois affirmed in an oral opinion, relying upon an earlier decision in which it had upheld the constitutionality of the legitimacy-based distinction against constitutional challenges, including those presented in an amicus brief which had been filed by the appellant and her mother. Appellant challenged the decision.
Was § 12 of the Illinois Probate Act constitutional, thereby justifying the exclusion of illegitimate children as heirs of their intestate fathers?
On appeal, the Court reversed and held that § 12 of the Illinois Probate Act (Act) was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of U.S. Const. amend. XIV, because the Act discriminated against illegitimate children. The Court concluded there was no legitimate State purpose in an intestate law discriminating against illegitimate children. Penalizing children as a means of influencing parents was not an effective means of promoting legitimate family relationships. Moreover, distinguishing between rights of illegitimate children in estates of their mothers and their fathers was not related to purpose of promoting family relations. The Court held that any alleged difficulty in proving paternity did not justify statutory disinheritance. Finally, the Court rejected the argument that an intestate could have assured illegitimate children inheritance by naming them in a will. The Court held that the argument lost sight of the constitutionality of discrimination against illegitimate children in intestate succession laws.