Months before her death in 2015, art collector Eleanor G. Potter amended her will to remove the Portland Museum of Art as the primary beneficiary of up to $2 million. Instead, she gave the majority of her estate to her caretaker at the time, a woman named AnneMarie Germain. Now, the museum is suing Germain, accusing her of “elder abuse.”
Potter, who died in March 2015 at age 89, was a Portland-based art collector, patron, and a member of the leadership committee at PMA. A legal brief filed by the museum claims that Germain took advantage of Potter and illegally took control of her bank accounts.
Germain, for her part, maintains that she was a longtime friend of Potter and acted on her behalf. Her lawyers claim the museum’s accusations rely “largely on inadmissible or out of context evidence such as hearsay, improper lay opinions disguised as facts,” as well as “unauthenticated medical records and undesignated expert opinions.”
While many museums must contend with late in life changes in wishes on the part of donors, few end up taking the matter to court.
“Museums frequently find themselves trying to decide what the best thing to do is when wills and generosity to a museum are called into question by people who are surprised their relative was so generous,” Daniel E. O’Leary, the former director of the Portland Museum of Art, told the Portland Press Herald, which first reported the story. “Almost everybody who dies with a lot of art and money, people come banging around. If there was some pledge to the museum or language in the will, that’s often an issue.”
Germain alleges that that Potter’s former lawyer Matthew Goldfarb pressured her to include the museum in her will. Potter ceased working with Goldfarb in 2014—the same time she began working to change her estate plan.
“I am not sure how a museum which thrives on donations from members and the general public believes a lawsuit enhances its brand in this fashion,” Gene Libby, Germain’s attorney, told artnet News.
The PMA declined to comment on the case, as did the institution’s lawyers.
The case is scheduled to go to trial at the Cumberland County Superior Court in July. Meanwhile, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court will begin hearing oral arguments in a related matter: Germain’s petition to receive funds from Potter’s will before the larger case is settled.
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