December 29, 2013

Friend sues estate of UMaine professor

Daniel Toto, the only individual named in the will, says a $100,000 check should be honored.

By Betty Adams
Staff Writer

John M. Nickerson left most of his wealth to University of Maine System scholarship funds and foundations.

But his will provided for some of his personal possessions, including his car and two yellow gold Baume and Mercier watches, to go to a friend, Daniel A. Toto Jr. of Vassalboro, the only individual named to receive items from the estate.

Now Toto is suing the personal representative of Nickerson’s estate and Key Bank for refusing to honor a $100,000 check that Toto says Nickerson wrote to him on May 19, a week before Nickerson died.

According to the lawsuit filed by Toto’s attorneys, David Lipman and Caleb Gannon, Toto presented the check to his bank May 28, two days after Nickerson died. Later, he learned that a representative of Nickerson’s estate contacted Key Bank to dispute the authenticity of the signature.

“As a result, (Toto) has been denied the possession and benefit of the $100,000,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit in Kennebec County Superior Court describes Toto as having “shared a mutual friendship for many years with, and provided valuable services to” Nickerson before his May 26 death. It also says that Nickerson wrote several checks to Toto just before that date.

“Mr. Nickerson was someone who was really close to him and this whole lawsuit is very, very distressing to Mr. Toto,” Lipman said on Friday. He also said the amount of the check would have no significant impact on the estate.

The $700 filing fee in probate court indicates Nickerson’s estate is worth between $750,000 and $1 million.

According to the lawsuit and records in Kennebec County Probate Court, the payment was disallowed by Jeffrey N. Mills of Orono, the man Nickerson named to serve as personal representative of his estate.

Mills is president and CEO of the University of Maine Foundation Board, and the foundation is named as a recipient of some of Nickerson’s estate.

Nickerson, who was 75 when he died, was a professor emeritus of political science and public administration at the University of Maine at Augusta and a former member of the graduate faculty at the University of Maine. He graduated from there in 1959. He had also been a lecturer at Colby College.

Probate court records show Nickerson had no surviving spouse, no registered domestic partner, no children, no parents or grandparents, brothers or sisters.

Those same records show he was adopted by Elmer W. Nickerson and Marion G. Howard in 1937, and was their only child.

Nickerson’s will, signed March 27, and carrying the signatures of two attorneys at Pierce Atwood, Warren E. Winslow Jr. and former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Daniel E. Wathen, lays out Nickerson’s wishes in meticulous detail.

He wants net income from the John M. Nickerson Scholarship Fund at the University of Maine at Augusta to endow merit scholarships for needy Maine juniors and seniors majoring in political science or public administration who have “demonstrated scholarship of the highest order and who have the greatest potential to serve the public unselfishly.”

The renewable scholarship must be at least a quarter of the annual tuition amount. Then, for every five-year increment after graduation, those recipients must send a resume and a letter to the school describing how they “contributed to the public interest with the aid of this scholarship.”

Nickerson left the remainder of his estate to the Orono-based University of Maine Foundation with specific instructions for some of his furnishings, including Persian rugs, sterling silver and lamps, to be used to furnish a quiet room for faculty and staff to be known as the John Mitchell Nickerson Room and to indicate the objects are placed there and elsewhere in memory of his parents.

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