Illinois Court Looks at Widow’s $4 Million Name

     (CN) – An elderly widow who agreed to give $4 million and a Chicago apartment to a neighbor for carrying on her name did not enter into an enforceable contract, an appeals court ruled.
     George J. Dohrmann III and Virginia Rogers were neighbors in the Drake Tower on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive. Rogers’ apartment was larger than Dohrmann’s.
     When they met in 1984, Rogers was a 74-year-old widow with no heirs. Dohrmann was a 40-year-old neurosurgeon, married with two sons.
     In the late ’90s, Dohrmann talked to Rogers about adult adoption and suggested that one of them adopt the other. This never occurred, even though Dohrmann leased an apartment in Arkansas, where such an adoption could take place.
     Eventually, they made a deal in 2000 in which Dohrmann would receive $4 million, along with the 89-year-old Rogers’ apartment and its contents, as payment for Dohrmann’s “past and future services.”
     These services included having Dohrmann’s children, ages 13 and 7 at the time, legally change their names to include “Rogers” as a middle name.
     Neither George John Rogers Dohrmann IV nor Geoffrey Edward David Rogers Dohrmann use the Rogers name on their Facebook pages, but George IV did use it on his high school diploma and Geoffrey uses it on his student ID card.
     Their namesake, the elderly Mrs. Rogers, never included the benefit for the Dohrmanns in her existing will and trust, which took control of her apartment in 2004.
     When Rogers began exhibiting signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in 2008, the probate court appointed her longtime lawyer and adviser, Thomas Swaney, as guardian of her multimillion estate, which consisted of bequests to various friends, distant relatives, seven Chicago-based charities and Mrs. Rogers’ alma mater.
     Swaney had no knowledge of Rogers’ contract with Dohrmann until just before Dohrmann filed a 2007 complaint in Cook County to enforce the deal.
     The estate countersued for fraud, asking the court to declare the contract unenforceable, and Rogers died during the litigation.
     The trial court ruled for the estate, and the First District Illinois Court of Appeals affirmed this summer, denying a rehearing on July 24.
     It said Dohrmann did not do enough to obtain $5.5 million in assets.
     “We agree with the estate that Mrs. Rogers did not gain much by the addition of the Rogers name to the boys’ middle names,” Justice Fitzgerald Smith wrote for the court. “The stated purpose of adding the name was to ‘help[ ] the Rogers name to continue after [her] death.’ However, Dohrmann did not change the boys’ surnames to Rogers, nor even exchange their middle names for Rogers. Rather, he merely added the name Rogers as one of two middle names for George IV and one of three middle names for Geoffrey. This can hardly be said to perpetuate the Rogers name after Mrs. Rogers’ death.”
     There is nothing in contract mandating that the sons use the Rogers name, and nothing prevents the young men from now removing it, the court found.
     “The disparity is shocking on its face,” Smith wrote. “We agree with the circuit court, which stated that the consideration ‘seems to be so minimally beneficial to Mrs. Rogers (particularly in light of the goal stated in the contract of “continuing the Rogers name”) as to be almost nonexistent.'” (Parentheses in original.)

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