Stewart estate battle escalates
The fight over former Montgomery County politician Joe Stewart’s multimillion-dollar estate progressed Thursday as one of his daughters responded to the other’s attempt to get more than her father’s will left her.
Julia Milton, the Stewart daughter who is executrix of his will, responded to her sister Sandra Weddle’s claim that Milton turned their father against Weddle and her son, convincing Stewart to give the bulk of his estate to Milton.
Barry Stewart, Joe Stewart’s grandson, also filed a response to Weddle’s suit this week that backs up Milton.
“I do not feel that anyone, including Julia S. Milton, could persuade Joe C. Stewart into doing anything he did not agree with,” Barry Stewart declared.
Milton’s response says Weddle has no claim to change the will because it replaces a 2004 will that would have left Weddle and her children as much as the 2006 will did.
Besides, the response adds, Weddle said at the reading of the will that her father was competent when he signed it.
Weddle’s lawyer, Jonathan Rogers, said his client denies saying that. He also said something did change between 2004 and 2006 — taxes.
“The amount of taxes due in 2004 was a lot less than what was due in 2006,” Rogers said. Taxes might not have devoured Weddle’s inheritance in 2004.
Besides, Rogers said, Milton was influencing her father in 2004, too.
“This had been going on for a long, long time,” Rogers said. “Milton had been working on him for a long, long time.”
Weddle’s complaint contends that Milton undermined Weddle and her son in Stewart’s eyes.
Milton’s response admits Sandra Weddle and her son Jamie had a falling-out with Stewart, but says Milton played no part in it. Stewart didn’t approve of the Weddles’ conduct, and Stewart and Sandra Weddle often argued, according to Milton’s response. But Milton said she rarely talked to her father about them because it made him angry.
Court papers do not describe the behavior that caused the falling-out, and John Fishwick, Milton’s lawyer, declined to give any details.
After the falling-out, according to Milton’s filing, she and her daughter, Stewart Harvey, took on the majority of the care of Stewart’s farm and home.
Weddle claims her father often appeared in public with urine-stained pants and attributes that to his declining mental capacity.
Milton says it was because of an enlarged prostate that caused incontinence.
Weddle says Stewart kept chickens in his kitchen.
Milton says they were a gift, rare and expensive chicks that he kept in a cage so predators could not get them.
The most profound disagreement seems to be over Stewart’s state of mind when he signed his will. Milton maintains her father’s mind “remained sharp and clear up until the final hours before his death.”
Weddle argues that Stewart was under Milton’s influence.
“We’re not saying he was incompetent,” Rogers said. They are saying Stewart suffered some diminished capacity that allowed Milton to hold sway over him.
Barry Stewart doesn’t buy it. In his response, Joe Stewart’s grandson says, ” No one could influence Joe C. Stewart to do anything he was in doubt about.”
Stewart, who died in November at age 91, spent more than two decades on the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, attending board meetings in his trademark khaki work shirt and pants and often casting the only “no” vote on numerous subjects.
He owned the Christiansburg Livestock Market and about 3,500 acres in Montgomery and Floyd counties.
His will, signed less than a month before he died in November 2006, 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 will inherit it when their father dies.
Stewart divided the rest of his estate among Milton, Andrea Weddle and Sandra Weddle.
But estate taxes are almost certain to eat up that residual property, so Sandra Weddle is likely to get nothing from her father’s estate.
Though court papers filed in Floyd County say Weddle wants half of Stewart’s estate, her attorney said she wants the estate split evenly among her, Milton and the children of Joe Stewart Jr., Stewart’s son who died in 1973.
Now the case enters a phase of discovery and depositions, potentially culminating in a jury trial. Neither lawyer would speculate on how long the case might last.