Estate auction canceled amid heirs’ dispute
Auctioneer Carl McNeil was angry Saturday morning as he set a lunch box-sized public address system on a folding table and turned the “on” switch. The man with the white straw gambler’s hat told the 40-some people gathered under and around a white awning on a Floyd County hill that there would be no auction. He expressed his regret that a legal battle over Joe Stewart’s will had inconvenienced those who came to bid.
“Thank you for accepting our apologies,” McNeil said.
Despite a Friday legal hearing by telephone to try to keep the auction from being canceled, the sale of one chunk of Stewart’s estate was not to be. And it won’t happen until a dispute between Stewart’s daughters is resolved.
Stewart, who died in November at age 91, spent more than two decades on the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors — showing up for meetings in his trademark khaki work shirt and pants. Famous for being the only “no” vote on the board on many issues, the cantankerous farmer also spent a few days in court.
One time it was because of damage his horses did after getting loose from one of his Floyd County farms. Another time it was over a county sticker he had bought, but hadn’t put on his truck’s windshield.
Stewart’s heirs are likely to spend much more time with legal issues, arguing over much higher stakes. Court papers have been filed, and they include statements by one of Stewart’s daughters that he was senile in his last days and would appear in public in urine-covered pants.
Stewart owned the Christiansburg Livestock Market and about 3,500 acres of Montgomery and Floyd counties. Who gets all that property is now being contested. If Stewart’s will is honored, his daughter Julia Milton is set to get most of it. Sandra Weddle, Stewart’s only other surviving child, is seeking half.
According to court-filed documents, a fall in the month before he died had sent Stewart to his bed. From there it was a fairly short decline that ended with a bout of pneumonia and death.
It was during that October that he signed a will that makes Milton executrix of his estate. It also gives his personal property, farm machinery, farm vehicles and livestock to Milton. It gives 60 percent interest in the livestock market to Milton, the rest to her daughter.
It gives 2,425 acres to Milton and another 38 acres to Milton and her daughter.
Stewart left 2 acres to Andrea Weddle, Sandra Weddle’s daughter. According to Stewart’s will, that’s where Andrea Weddle’s double-wide sits.
He left James Weddle, Sandra Weddle’s son, life estate in a Floyd County farm known as the Thomas place. It covers about 440 acres. James Weddle’s children would inherit it when their father dies.
Stewart split the remainder of his estate into thirds to be divided among Milton, Andrea Weddle and Sandra Weddle.
Steve Wagner, one of the attorneys representing Stewart’s estate, said Stewart designated that part of the estate remainder be sold to pay an estate tax bill that runs into millions of dollars. That was the 211-acre Floyd County farm that was to have been auctioned Saturday morning.
But that farm wasn’t likely to bring enough to pay the taxes, so more of the remainder would have to be sold. That probably wouldn’t have covered the tax bill either, Wagner said, so the heirs would have to pay the balance.
And Sandra Weddle would get nothing.
Weddle’s attorneys filed papers in Floyd County on May 31, the day after Sandra Weddle contested her father’s will in Montgomery County.
That will, Weddle’s filing claims, “was the product of undue influence of Julia Milton, the primary beneficiary under the will.”
Milton could not be reached for comment for this story.
Sandra Weddle claims her father wasn’t in his right mind when he signed his will. As evidence, she says in her complaint that he was “incontinent and urinated constantly in his pants and would appear in public with urine stained pants as he would not change his pants for weeks at a time.”
Joe Stewart kept chickens in his kitchen, Sandra Weddle claims, and he wouldn’t let anyone spray for bugs for fear that it would hurt the chickens.
There are errors in the will itself. It refers to Andrea Weddle as Andrew, for example. It names Milton trustee, but creates no trust.
“It’s clear that when he executed that will, he couldn’t have read it carefully and understood it fully,” said Jonathan Rogers, Sandra Weddle’s attorney. “I’m not saying he was incompetent. But he surely wasn’t at full capacity.”
Sandra Weddle claims that her sister “worked tirelessly” to turn their father against her, “his steadfast daughter,” and her son.
“I believe we can prove just about everything in there,” Rogers said of the complaint.
The auction didn’t happen because Sandra Weddle filed a lis pendens, essentially a lien, on her father’s property.
“It’s a notice to the world that the title to the land is subject to litigation,” Wagner said.
Sandra Weddle wants a jury trial to decide the issue.
Rogers, Weddle’s lawyer, said he’s confident his client will win one way or another. Either the case will drag on for a long time, or everyone will sit down and resolve things quickly, before the value of the estate is eaten away by lawyers, he said.
“We’re going to put this thing on a fast track,” Wagner told the people who came to bid on the property. “But any of you who have had involvement with lawyers know that, as a breed, we do not move quickly.”