James and Mary Haviland first met in 1996, when he was recuperating in a Seattle hospital. He was 85, and worth more than $3 million. She was 35, and a nursing assistant.
In his earlier years, 1940 into the 1970s, Jim distinguished himself as an associate dean and clinicial professor at the University of Washington. He also cofounded the Northwest Kidney Centers, and ran a private medical practice. He and his first wife, Marion, had four children. Marion died in 1993.
In their first year together, Jim gave his new friend Mary $110,000 to help pay her education and living expenses. He also gave her a $300,000 "nest egg." After that, he created the James W. Haviland Living Trust that, upon his death, would leave Mary another $500,000. He had separate trusts to benefit his children.
In 1997, Jim Haviland wed Mary Katherine Burden. In the following years, money from the various trusts began to move about.
According to court records, in 1998, Jim removed the $500,000 limit on Mary's Living Trust inheritance and a year later transferred $765,000 into that trust from another family fund that benefited the children. In 2000, Jim, 89, named Mary, 39, his co-trustee.
Over the next six years, millions of dollars of Jim's assets, established in a prenuptial agreement, were transferred from the trust into the couple's joint checking account, Mary's separate checking account, and Mary's separate line of credit.
Millions were withdrawn from the joint checking account. Attorneys for the children would later declare--and a judge would agree--there was little evidence to show where money from that account was spent.
Elderly Jim also conveyed two parcels of his separate real estate to Mary and his retirement accounts were cashed in. Substantial sums of money were gifted to Mary's children (from a previous marriage) and to others. Jim did not make comparable gifts to his own children.
Before his marriage to Mary, the children's attorneys said, Jim was known as a frugal man, who made generous gifts to education, the arts, and charitable organizations. During his marriage to Mary, he made four revisions to his estate plan. Each change resulted in a greater portion of his estate going to Mary and less to his children and charities.
In 2006, Mary phoned an attorney and said Jim, 95, wanted to change his will. The new will disinherited Jim's children. He signed it and that was that.
In 2007, Jim, 96, died, and Mary got most everything.
In 2009, the children went to court. A geriatric psychiatrist testified that an analysis of Jim's life and medical records indicated he began exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer's as early as 2000 and was severely disabled from the disease at the time of his death.
Hearing that and other evidence, the court set aside the will, allowing the earlier will, benefiting the children, to be admitted for probate instead, and appointed a new administrator for the estate, whose bottom line, once prosperous, showed a debt of $45,834.38. It is, again, unclear where the money went and whether it can be restored to the estate.
Mary, who had become Jim' s primary caregiver, "depleted" Jim's estate through a systematic, persistent, and largely unexplained pattern of transferring assets for her benefit and that of her children and others, the court found. There was clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that the 2006 will was the product of "undue influence" by Mary. And this week, a state appeals court upheld that decision, concluding, after a long discussion of the law, "we find no error and affirm."
The children win. And, other than recovering the money, that is that.
A love story.