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Post date: June 2 2004

North Country Charities Benefit From Estate Settlement

New York State Attorney General Spitzer today announced a settlement in an estate case that will result in two local charities receiving substantial gifts.

The settlement was reached after the Attorney General's Office challenged the propriety of the estate's executrix allowing a family member to live rent-free for five years in the home of the deceased woman whose estate she was overseeing.

The will of Anne Rice Jacobsen of Saranac Lake, who died in May 1997, instructed that two-thirds of her estate should be divided equally between Tri-Lakes Humane Society and High Peaks Hospice. While the will was in probate, the executrix of the estate, Eleanor Rice Stearns, allowed her daughter, Jill Woodruff, to live in Jacobson's house as a caretaker without paying rent.

Last summer, as probate was nearing completion, Stearns sought to have the estate reimburse her daughter nearly $14,000 for expenses including fuel oil, electricity, snow and trash removal, repairs and taxes.

The Attorney General's Office objected to the reimbursement, arguing that it was detrimental to the interests of the charities named in Jacobsen's will for Stearns to allow her daughter to use the assets of the estate without paying fair value for them. The Attorney General's Office has authority to review estates and trusts in order to protect charitable gifts from erosion by unnecessary or unwarranted expenses.

Under a settlement negotiated by the Attorney General's Office and recently approved by Franklin County Surrogate Judge Robert Main Jr., the estate will be paid the fair rental value of the home for the five years Woodruff lived in it, minus amounts she paid for property taxes and repairs.

As a result of this settlement, the gift to each charity from the Jacobsen estate will more than double, from $6,934 to $15,269.

The matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Glen Michaels of the Plattsburgh Regional Office under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General in Charge, Robert Glennon.