The Portland Museum of Art Wins Its $4.6 Million Lawsuit Against a Caretaker Accused of Coercing an Elderly Donor Into Changing Her Will

The elderly woman signed over her estate to her caregiver—rather than the museum and her family—shortly before she died.

The galleries of the Portland Museum of Art in Maine. Photo courtesy of the Portland Museum of Art.

A jury has awarded Maine’s Portland Museum of Art $4.6 million in its lawsuit against a caregiver who it claimed changed the will of an elderly museum donor so that it left her, rather than the museum, the entire estate.

In 2014, longtime museum supporter and leadership committee member Eleanor G. Potter drew up and signed an estate plan making the museum a “remainder” benefactor. It would receive the entirety of Potter’s art collection, and the money that remained following bequests to her sister, step-daughter, and step-grandchildren—an estimated $3.3 million, according to Portland Museum lawyer Thimi Mina.

Six months later, Potter fired Matthew Goldfarb, her personal attorney of 45 years, and rewrote her will. Now everything was to go to Annemarie Germain, Potter’s friend and caretaker, who had moved in full time after Potter broke her hip in 2012. Potter died three years later, at age 89.

The Portland Museum of Art sued Germain, accusing her of elder abuse and coercing Potter into naming her the sole beneficiary. Mina described to the court a “long, systematic and relentless” campaign by Germain, who is now 56, in which she allegedly isolated Potter from her family, and threatened to put her into a nursing home. He said Germain could be heard on the background “coaching” Potter during phone calls with lawyers.

The Portland Museum of Art’s McLellan House Building. Courtesy of the Portland Museum of Art.

Potter was “very independent, intelligent, and, up to her very last day, made her own decisions,” countered Germain’s lawyer, Gene Libby. He told the jury that the elderly woman was grateful to the caretaker, with whom she had developed a close, mother-daughter-like bond, and wanted to show her appreciation with the bequest. Libby did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The Portland Museum of Art did not take the decision to file this lawsuit lightly but felt compelled to do so given the evidence of the serious nature of the conduct before it,” Mina told the Portland Herald. “[Germain] got away with a lot of money here.”

UPDATE, July 24, 2019: Germain is planning to appeal the verdict. “We believe the museum overreached, introduced prejudicial evidence, and deprived Annemarie of a fair trial,” Libby told artnet News in an email, adding that “the award exceeds the remaining value of the Potter estate by several million dollars or more.”

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