CHARLESTON – Ralph Haines made millions as West Virginia's top probate lawyer, but he blew his own will.
He tried to keep it simple. He named his only child, Linda Haines, as sole beneficiary. He named his secretary, Pamela Kimble, as executrix.
When he died they started feuding. They kept up the feud for four years and carried it to the state's highest court, spending nearly a million dollars on legal fees.
Now the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has taken the daughter's side.
By a majority of three Justices out of five, the Court on March 17 ordered Hampshire County circuit court to remove Kimble as executrix.
The Justices ordered the appointment of Linda Haines as substitute executrix.
If Ralph Haines had envisioned the massive legal fees, the majority wrote, he likely would have handled his estate differently.
They wrote that, "…the testator's primary intention of leaving his entire estate to the appellant as his only child and sole heir must be the overriding factor and primary consideration."
Haines achieved wealth by knowing probate better than anyone else in West Virginia. Applicants for the bar had to answer his questions on wills and estates.
He executed his will in 1993, after more than 50 years in practice. He lived on and continued making money.
He died May 3, 2002. The county commission of Hampshire County admitted his will to probate ten days later.
In less than three months Linda Haines filed a petition to remove Kimble as executrix.
William Judy III, fiduciary commissioner from Hardy County, denied the petition. The Hampshire County commission affirmed his decision in 2003.
Haines moved for reconsideration and the commission denied it.
Haines filed a petition for appeal in circuit court and moved for Kimble's temporary removal during the appeal.
Circuit Judge Donald Cookman recused himself. Randolph County Circuit Judge John Henning took the case.
Henning ordered mediation, but that did not help. He held a hearing and on Nov. 19, 2004, he ruled that Kimble had performed her duties well.
He ruled that Linda Haines interfered in Kimble's difficult job and refused to cooperate.
He blamed Haines for the hostility between her and Kimble.
Haines appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeals. Michael Caryl of Martinsburg and Curtis Power of Winchester, Virginia, represented her.
Royce Saville of Romney represented Kimble.
The Justices heard all the elements of the feud.
Haines charged that Kimble corrected an initial list of property to her detriment, concealed $200,000 of bonds for months, and declared as property of the estate antique firearms which her father had presented to her as a gift in 1967.
Haines also charged that Kimble inflated appraisals to boost her commission, paid several hundred thousand dollars for services of three law firms, and mishandled the closing of her father's practice.
Kimble denied the charges, argued that Haines showed no damage to the estate, and defended the legal fees as prudent and necessary for a complex estate.
The Supreme Court of Appeals majority wrote that while reasons for hostility might be in dispute, there was no dispute that such hostile relations did exist.
They declared that, "…the parties cannot work together with any sense of civility or common purpose."
Quoting decisions of 1940, 1957 and 1975, they declared that, "The paramount principle in construing or giving effect to a will is that the intention of the testator prevails, unless it is contrary to some positive rule of law or principle of public policy."
They wrote that, "…while the testator intended to make the appellee the executrix of his estate, there is no dispute that he also clearly intended to leave all of his worldly possessions to the appellant as his sole heir."
They ordered the county commission to determine appropriate and reasonable compensation for Kimble's services.
Justices Joseph Albright, Robin Davis and Spike Maynard formed the majority. Justices Larry Starcher and Brent Benjamin dissented.