published Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Georgia: Yates family settles dispute over inheritance

LaFAYETTE, Ga. — The Yates family estate trial seems to be at an end after two days of testimony, with both sides settling in court on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for co-defendant Jo Anne Cline Yates said, "It's a family matter, and it's over. It's time to move forward." She declined to comment further.

Attempts to reach both parties' attorneys were unsuccessful.

On Tuesday, Laura Sikes Yates said the contested will of Pierce Yates Sr. has devolved into a "despicable" affair. She suggested that her father, millionaire Pierce Yates Sr., would not have knowingly signed a will leaving out her brother Allen Yates.

"Every plan my father made has been thrown out the window," she said.

On Wednesday, Cline Yates testified in the Walker County Courthouse that the family dispute about her late husband's will had her living in a nightmare.

"I've heard horror stories about trust funds. I'm living one right now," she said during the trial to determine whether Pierce Yates' fortune was properly divided among his children.

Cline Yates is well known in Chattanooga for her volunteerism and philanthropy.

According to a complaint by her stepson, Allen Yates, she and another of her stepsons conspired to "subvert and overmaster the mind and will" in the eleventh hour of patriarch Pierce Yates, leading to Allen Yates not receiving his fair share of his father's estate.

Defense attorney Skip Patty explained that Pierce Yates divided millions of dollars into five shares for his five children from two of his three wives. However, while three of his children received their portion, his son Brewster Yates absorbed his half-brother Allen Yates' inheritance.

Allen Yates' attorney, Bobby Lee Cook, said his client received only $100,000, a pittance of what the other children received, although the exact amount of their inheritances is unclear.

The Yates' fortune comes in large part from their textile factory, Yates Bleachery, in Flintstone, Ga., where Pierce, Brewster and Allen Yates have all worked.

Cook questioned Cline Yates about a March 2007 note written in her husband's hand months before his death. In the note, he writes of a deepening rift between his first wife's family, which includes Allen Yates, and his second wife's family, which includes Brewster Yates.

Shortly after the letter was written, the will was changed and Allen Yates' inheritance shrank, the complaint stated.

However, on Tuesday, Allen Yates' sister Laura Sikes Yates noted that, when she visited her father a month after the letter was written, he was hallucinating, delirious and distracted by the pain of prostate and bone cancer. She implied that Pierce Yates would only leave unequal amounts to his children if he had been tricked or coerced.

The complaint maintains that "106 days prior to his death, Pierce A. Yates, who was at the time 86 ... suffering from myriad mental and physical health problems, made significant changes to his long-standing estate plan."

On the witness stand, Cline Yates said her husband "was a strong man. [Radiation treatment] didn't affect him."

She also stood by her stepson and co-defendant Brewster Yates, saying, "Brew has a heart of gold."

In her testimony, she originally said she hadn't even seen her late husband's note until she was preparing for trial, but when pressed by Cook, she backtracked, saying she had seen the note before, but only after going through her husband's possessions after his August 2007 death.

Cook pressed her about meetings her husband had with his estate attorney, repeatedly asking for details that she said she could not recall.

"This is very hard," she said in a faltering voice.

However, with renewed vigor, she proclaimed, "He was taking Allen out of the beneficiary trust," adding that her husband had spoken of doing so for a year before his death.

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