Battle Over $1M Estate Goes To Trial
Caretaker, Sister Debate Validity Of Timberville Farmer’s 2008 Will
HARRISONBURG — A legal battle between a caretaker and a sister over a late Timberville farmer’s roughly $1 million in assets could come to an end this week.
Attorneys began presenting their cases to a jury in Rockingham County Circuit Court on Monday during the opening day of what is scheduled to be a five-day trial.
Raymond Wine, 94, died on July 7, 2011. Wine’s will left everything to his caretaker, Dolly McAvoy, a woman to whom he had given power of attorney a few years after she started working for him in 2002.
His sister, Anna Johnston, 88, filed a lawsuit contesting the will, claiming her brother was not competent when he signed the document and that McAvoy used undue influence over Wine to get him to leave her the estate.
“No will is valid if it’s a product of an unsound mind,” Johnston’s attorney, Richard Armstrong, told jurors during his opening argument.
McAvoy became Wine’s caretaker shortly after his wife, Marie Wine, died. The couple had no children.
At the time of his death, Wine had assets totaling between $1 million to $2 million, including more than 200 acres in Rockingham and Shenandoah counties, stocks, and other assets.
Johnston’s attorney said Wine suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia at the time of his death.
Wine was found incompetent in June 2011 after a court-ordered competency evaluation, according to court records. He died about two weeks later.
What is at dispute is whether Wine was competent when he drafted a new will in 2008.
Armstrong said the defendant was heard making incriminating statements after Wine signed the will.
He said she was heard saying, “You can put anything in front of him and he’ll sign it.”
McAvoy’s attorney, Kevin Rose, told jurors to play close attention during the trial and listen to witnesses who were familiar with Wine. He said his longtime attorney helped him draft the will, and it was notarized by a bank employee who had known Wine for years.
He said the witnesses can speak to Wine’s competency at the time the will was made.
“What’s going to be important is the witnesses that saw him the day he wrote the will,” Rose told the jurors.
He also said he believes Mildred Riggleman, a one-time caretaker for Wine’s late wife, is the one behind the lawsuit. He said Johnston made it clear she doesn’t want the money or the farm. He said it’s likely Riggleman, who was previously the main beneficiary of Wine’s will, would seek to be reinstated if Johnston was successful at getting the will voided.
Rose said she could be called to testify.
Judge Bruce Albertson ruled Monday that jurors will not likely be able to hear about claims that Johnston made last year about the circumstances surrounding her brother’s death.
Johnston filed a petition in Shenandoah County Circuit Court asking for her brother’s remains to be exhumed so an autopsy could be performed. One was not done at the time of his death.
She claimed his death was suspicious.
In September, Shenandoah County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Hupp ordered that his body be exhumed from Flat Rock Cemetery in Forestville.
The autopsy revealed that he died of a heart ailment, not foul play, according to attorneys in court Monday.
The trial is scheduled to resume this morning in Rockingham County Circuit Court.
Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or firstname.lastname@example.org