Who Owns Your Estate?
By Curt Chancler
Who really owns your estate? In reality you do NOT. The assets, land and property acquired throughout your lifetime can be taken, changed, and/or sold if a Probate Court so decrees. You can write a will and it isn’t worth the paper it is written on if challenged and taken to Probate Court. While statutes decree that the Court is to follow the wishes of the decedent that does not always happen.
Right now in Linn County Oregon a six year probate battle continues to rage between an avaricious Portland, Oregon Northwest Natural Gas Company (NWNG) and their legal firm Stoel Rives; West Coast Bank’s Trust Company represented by Garrett, Hemann, Robertson, Jennings, Comstock and Trethewy of Salem; and their alleged linchpin James Van Horn, stepson to Archie Q. Adams, Sr., represented by Fitzwater & Meyer LLP, Portland and paid by NWNG. NWNG reportedly also guaranteed West Coast Trust $20,000 to assure they took the position of personal representative. All this in order to strip the inheritance, a lifetime of work for Archie Q. and Ethel Adams, from their children. An inheritance that NWNG continues to assert to the Court is of little value.
The Mist Oregon Natural Gas field has been in operation since 1979. It was originally opened by Diamond Shamrock Gas Company, Reichold Gas and others. Through buyouts and attrition Northwest Natural Gas Company became the major holder in the field. Enerfin Exploration Company continues drilling in the area. However at this time the main focus is gas storage in the underground network of pools drained of their commercial native natural gas.
Representative from NWNG met with the Adams family in early 2003 to work out a lease deal but that fell through when terms could not be agreed upon. NWNG then went to Mr. Adams’ step-son, James Van Horn, who turned over a 1988 will for the promise of settlement money and payment of his legal fees. In December, 2003 Northwest Natural Gas Co., entered a 1988 will into the Linn County Probate Court. Judge Glen Baisinger was requested to find who owned the Columbia County Mist Field mineral rights of the deceased Archie Q. Adams, Sr.
They also requested that West Coast Trust a department of West Coast Bank in Portland, Oregon be selected as Personal Representative. Judge Baisinger did exactly as they wished without giving Mr. Adams’ daughter a chance to respond even though she was named as Personal Representative by Mr. Adams’ will.
Judge Carol Bispham
When this finally came to Court in 2004 the Adams family asked Judge Baisinger to recuse himself for blatantly favoring Northwest Natural Gas Co. The case then went to Linn County Judge Carol Bispham. Judge Bispham validated Mr. Adams’ 1992 will in 2005. The declared beneficiaries to the 1992 estate are Mr. Adams’s three children—Archie, Jr. and Glen Adams and his daughter, Jeanne Wollman. Judge Bispham did not name Ms Wollman as personal representative even though, once again, that was the choice of Mr. Adams.
In spite of the new direction demanded by this second will, West Coast Trust refused to defend the 1992 will. In an apparent attempt to aid and abet Northwest Natural Gas Co. in obtaining the mineral rights West Coast Trust pressed for the sale of the mineral rights. This was done through a Court ordered auction of the mineral rights on November 3, 2007 by Realty Marketing/Northwest, Auctioneer. All 2500 plus acres of the Adams family mineral rights were sold at public auction for $375,000. The only bidder was Northwest Natural Gas Co.
Previously NWNG had offered West Coast Trust 1.2 to 1.5 million dollars for approximately 400 acres. Another Gas Co. had offered the estate $500,000 for approximately 200 acres. Neither of these offers was reported to the Court nor to the heirs. These offers for far fewer acres did not come to light until subpoenaed papers were obtained by the Adams family after the sale. The question that arises here is, “Why would a personal representative choose to sell over 2500 acres of mineral rights for less than what they’d previously been offered for approximately 600 plus acres?” It was documented in a West Coast Trust deposition that the reason they sold all 2500 plus acres was “because it was easier.”
It was only after that auction had stripped the estate and the heirs of the estate’s only asset — the mineral rights in the Northwest Natural Gas Co. Mist Oregon Field—that the Court ordered over 5500 subpoenaed pages released to the Adams family. While these documents are still being studied, West Coast Trust’s Garrett, Hemann et al attorney, Kevin Shuba, is feverishly trying to close the estate even though several motions and orders are still being considered by the Court and objections have been lodged by the Adams family. The Trust Company also continues to rack up costs and charges.
Northwest Natural Gas Company now holds title to the Adams’ mineral rights for a pittance but It would appear West Coast Trust’s current intent is to completely drain the estate. The 1992 will charges the Personal representative to do the right thing—pass on Mr. Adams’ estate to his children—however West Coast Trust has allegedly chosen to ignore its duty.