“Stix said her father was in a fragile physical and emotional state following his cancer diagnosis on August 4, 2015 and that his health and living conditions had deteriorated substantially in recent years.”
A Massachusetts County manager, Martina Thornton, is involved in a messy probate case in which she stands to inherit a large part of the estate of a longtime Edgartown resident who died about a year ago. The Vineyard Gazette reported this story in “Tangled Probate Dispute Involves Dukes County Manager.” Louis S. Stix died in December 2015 of cardiopulmonary arrest at age 84.
His will was signed a few months prior to his death and is being contested by his daughter Margaret Stix. She says Thornton prepared the new will, using undue influence to make her and her husband key beneficiaries of the estate shortly after the decedent was diagnosed with cancer. Thornton’s attorney said the senior Stix and Thornton were longtime friends and there was nothing unusual about the case.
Ms. Stix says her father left an estate of $1.2 million, but said he was living in a dilapidated house without heat or plumbing near Thornton’s home. She also said that he’d suffered emotional and mental instability all his life. Ms. Stix stated in an affidavit, that Thornton “held herself out as an attorney” to her father, although she wasn’t licensed to practice law. Thornton, who was appointed Dukes County Manager in 2012, strongly refuted the claims made against her in court. She said it’s not uncommon for a will to be drafted by a person who isn’t an estate planning attorney, and there’s no requirement that a person drafting a will be an attorney. However, look at the mess this created!
The will leaves Margaret Stix and her brother $10,000 each, along with a provision that if either contests the validity of the will, they’d forfeit the bequest.
According to court documents, three months after Mr. Stix died, Thornton petitioned the probate court to name her as the special representative to the estate. In his new will, Mr. Stix designated his brother Daniel Stix and his ex-wife Jennifer Stix as personal representatives. Following his death, both filed waivers saying they did not want to be a special representative. The will stated that Thornton would serve as special representative, if the two didn’t want the responsibility.
Stix was suspicious of the naming of two special representatives in her father’s new will, believing that her father wouldn’t have knowingly nominated them as his personal representatives because neither would have been willing or able to serve. Daniel has been living in a nursing home in Connecticut after suffering a major stroke, and Jennifer doesn’t live on the Vineyard. She thinks her father was either unaware that he was nominating these individuals as his personal representatives or was so confused that he didn’t recall their current health and relationship with him.
In April, the probate court denied Thornton’s request to be appointed special representative for the estate, instead appointing a local attorney as a special temporary representative, who was nominated by Stix. Her appointment has been extended twice by the court because the parties in the dispute can’t agree on who should permanently fill the role of special representative. Probate court records contain no further information about the proceeding, but the matter is said to be in mediation.
Reference: (Martha’s Vineyard, MA) Vineyard Gazette (November 17, 2016) “Tangled Probate Dispute Involves Dukes County Manager”