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Suit asks that earlier Grove will be accepted

December 12, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Heirs of the late Cora I. Grove have filed a lawsuit with the Franklin County Orphan's Court challenging the will she signed the day before her death and asking the court to accept an earlier will.

The suit claims the 87-year-old widow of the late businessman John L. Grove was terminally ill, heavily sedated and not competent when she signed a will June 3, 2005, reducing by $1.25 million the bequests to heirs and charities made in a will Jan. 19, 2005. The suit asks that the earlier will be accepted for probate and that $350,000 in commissions paid to the executors, attorney Martha B. Walker and Patricia Carbaugh, be repaid to the estate, as well as $125,000 paid to the law firm of Barley, Snyder, where Walker formerly worked, for administering the estate.

The suit alleges the later will reduced by $50,000 each the bequests to Gerald Lute, Elaine J. Heiler, Jane A. Thompson, Gail F. Runshaw and Gloria F. Tagnosky; and by $100,000 each the bequests to George Heiler and Lori Kramer.

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A bequest to the Greencastle-Antrim Foundation was cut $500,000, while Lutheran Social Services of Central Pennsylvania and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Greencastle, Pa., saw reductions of $100,000 each, the suit states. The Allison-Antrim Museum and Greencastle-Antrim School District Endowment Fund had bequests reduced $50,000 each in the later will.

"There's no truth to these sordid, malicious accusations, all of which will be vigorously defended," Walker said Monday. Walker said a motion to dismiss the suit will be filed based, in part, on the statute of limitations to file a challenge having expired and that the heirs signed receipts and releases after receiving their bequests.

The suit states Grove died June 4, 2005, a day after Walker paid the ailing woman a "lunchtime visit" during which the new will was signed. Grove "was incapable of making any type of business or estate decisions" in her final days, the suit states.

The suit alleges Walker and Carbaugh "devised a scheme to divert $1,250,000 from Grove heirs and charities under the Jan. 19 will" to benefit other charities, including $250,000 to the Capitol Theatre Foundation to pay for replacement of the ceiling that partially collapsed April 30, 2005.

A copy of the will filed with the suit shows an illegible mark at one place where Grove was to have signed, but her signature appears two other places on the document.

"She was alert. She was articulate. She was resting, but we went on to discuss the changes in her will," according to Walker, who said that she, Grove, Carbaugh and an F&M Trust Co. official worked on changing the will for several months.

"Two witnesses, who were her nurses I might add, took an oath that she was competent," Walker said. The June 3 will also was witnessed by herself and a notary, she said.

"I just didn't show up unannounced with some document," Walker said.

The suit states that some organizations receiving bequests in the June 3 will are ones in which Walker is, or was, associated, including the Capitol Theatre Foundation, the Caledonia Theatre Co. and Shippensburg University.

"As everybody in Franklin County I think knows, the Groves were very generous people," Walker said, noting that Cora Grove disbursed $3.5 million to many of the same groups several months before her death.

Citing two examples, Walker said the Groves were longtime patrons of the Caledonia Theater Co. and had given generously in the past to Shippensburg University, where John L. Grove years ago established a school of business in his name.

"These gifts were totally consistent with their past pattern of giving," Walker said.

The suit states that the Groves gave away $16.38 million in gifts and bequests and asked for an accounting of up to $8.6 million remaining in the estate, based on a figure of $22 million to $25 million quoted by Walker in an article published after Cora Grove's death.

"There is absolutely no money missing," Walker said. That figure was an estimate given within days of Grove's death when the extent of the estate was unknown, she said.

"In my opinion, they're throwing a bunch of crazy stuff against the wall to see what sticks," Walker said.

Lloyd R. Hampton, the Ashland, Pa., attorney for the heirs, did not return a telephone message Monday.

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