The Portland Museum of Art is suing the caretaker of a wealthy art collector who it says planned to bequeath as much as $2 million but was dissuaded from doing so just before she died.

The collector, Eleanor G. Potter, changed her will months before her death in 2015, removing the PMA as her primary beneficiary and instead leaving the bulk of her estate to her caretaker, AnneMarie Germain.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear a procedural matter about a legal issue on Wednesday. The larger case is scheduled for a jury trial in July in Cumberland County Superior Court.

Potter died in March 2015 at age 89, widowed and childless. She was an art and antiques collector, active at the PMA as a member of the leadership committee and a member of the board of the Victoria Mansion Society. She was married to Newell Potter, who owned Warren Furniture in Biddeford and Westbrook and died in 2004. Six months before she died, Eleanor Potter instructed her attorneys to change her estate plan, effectively removing the PMA as a beneficiary and leaving the bulk of the estate, including her home near Back Cove at 63 Parsons Road in Portland, to Germain.

The lawyers involved declined to comment, but court documents tell of a messy dispute between the museum and Germain that will begin to play out in public this week. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear oral arguments at 2 p.m. Wednesday on Germain’s appeal of a motion that denied her access to the disputed funds until the legal issue of the estate is settled.

In a legal brief, the museum alleges Germain exhibited “classic hallmarks of elder abuse – isolation, deception, manipulation, and intimidation,” saying she kept Potter from her family and friends and took control of her bank accounts. Germain contends she was a longtime friend who moved in to help care for Potter at Potter’s request, but that Potter lived independently until just before her death. Germain also says that Potter was influenced to give her money to the museum by her longtime previous attorney, Matthew Goldfarb, and that Potter changed her mind about the gift to the museum because her “estate plan did not fit her goals and objectives and were someone else’s goals and objectives.”

Potter fired Goldfarb and another of her attorneys in the summer of 2014 and began working with a new attorney to draft a new estate plan that named Germain as sole beneficiary. In a brief filed on her behalf, Germain’s attorney Gene R. Libby wrote, “Ms. Germain did not speak with Mrs. Potter about her will after the first meeting (between Potter and her new attorney) and did not learn that she stood to inherit most of Mrs. Potter’s assets … until a week or two before Mrs. Potter’s death.”

The museum filed its original complaint against Germain in August 2017 and petitioned to freeze Germain’s assets this past September after it learned in the discovery process of “a damning pattern of elder abuse perpetrated by the Defendant,” according to a PMA filing. It also learned Germain had inherited more than $1 million from Potter’s sister “and was intending to conceal those assets so that the PMA could not collect its likely judgment against her.”

Daniel E. O’Leary, the former director of the Portland Museum of Art, said it is not unusual for museums to face legal dilemmas when confronting issues of wills and the intent of the deceased. Disputes often involve late-in-life changes to wills or challenges by family members after the contents of a will are revealed. “Museums frequently find themselves trying to decide what the best thing to do is when wills and generosity to a museum are called into question by people who are surprised their relative was so generous,” he said. “Almost everybody who dies with a lot of art and money, people come banging around. If there was some pledge to the museum or language in the will, that’s often an issue.”

Potter was involved on the periphery of the Portland arts scene, said a longtime associate, the Yarmouth antiques dealer William Schwind. He described Potter as “a very quiet, laid-back lady” who became associated with the museum through her friendship with Sylvia Greenberg. In the early 2000s, Greenberg donated a valuable glass collection of more than 200 pieces to the museum, Schwind said. He met Potter through Greenberg, a mutual friend.

“Sylvia was the inspiration for (Potter’s) generosity to the museum. I am sure she was thinking, ‘I should do as Sylvia did and support the PMA,'” Schwind said, adding that he was shocked by the legal turmoil surrounding her estate. “I knew her well enough to understand her intentions, and her intentions would have been with the PMA.”

The foundation of the legal issues date to 2004, when Newell Potter died and left his widow all of his assets. They had created reciprocal wills in the 1990s, and Eleanor Potter updated her will to accommodate her sister in 2013. That will and estate plan included $500,000 to care for Potter’s sister, smaller gifts to Potter’s stepdaughter and stepgrandchildren, the gift of her home on Parsons Road to Germain and the balance to the museum, likely between $1.2 million and $2 million. The museum was also the sole beneficiary of the money set aside for Potter’s sister.

Potter executed that will on March 18, 2014. Less than three months later, she called her attorney and asked him to “tear up her will,” according to the museum’s legal brief.

The PMA brief, filed by Thimi R. Mini and Alfred C. Frawley of the Portland law firm McCloskey, Mini, Cuniff & Frawley, paints a troubling portrait of Potter’s final years, after a fall in spring 2012 that left Potter, then 87, with a broken leg. Germain, a longtime family friend, moved in to her Back Cove home soon thereafter to provide care.

“The Defendant used manipulation and intimidation to control Ms. Potter’s behavior. Ms. Germain frequently became impatient with Ms. Potter, and was overheard using ‘loud, crass and abusive’ language towards Ms. Potter on ‘dozens’ of occasions,” according to the complaint. “When she became aggravated with Ms. Potter, the Defendant would threaten to put her in a nursing home, forcing Ms. Potter to promise that she would ‘be good.’ She also convinced Ms. Potter that she could speak with her late husband from the grave, a ‘skill’ Ms. Potter valued tremendously.”

Health problems mounted, according to the brief, and Potter became “totally dependent” on Germain. By December 2014, Potter had stopped seeing her primary care physician and was treated only by morphine, according to the brief.

Among the allegations, the PMA contends that Germain received “thousands” of pieces of jewelry as gifts from Potter, two Cadillacs and a Jeep, and the use of credit cards. She also took control of Potter’s bank accounts. “At first, Ms. Germain reviewed Ms. Potter’s checks to make sure they were filled out correctly. Later, she wrote out checks herself, including checks to herself, presented them to Ms. Potter for her signature, and drove her to the bank. In June of 2014, the Defendant was added as a co-owner of Ms. Potter’s TD Bank checking accounts. In October of 2014, Ms. Germain secured Ms. Potter’s durable power of attorney; in December of 2014, she was added as a co-owner of Ms. Potter’s Bangor Savings Bank accounts as well. By the time Ms. Potter died, she held all of her accounts jointly with Ms. Germain.”

In her replies, Germain, 56, has denied everything, including the description of Potter’s physical condition. Her lawyers describe her as a longtime and loyal friend, who did only as she was asked.

“Ms. Germain helped Mrs. Potter with whatever she wanted, such as cooking, taking her to doctor’s appointments, and cleaning. Mrs. Potter could walk around perfectly fine, could go up and down stairs even though Ms. Germain moved her bedroom to the downstairs, and did not require supervision, such that Ms. Germain would go home sometimes for up to three days at a time,” according to a brief filed on Germain’s behalf by Libby, one of her attorneys. “Mrs. Potter was driving up until December 2014, three months before her death. Ms. Germain did not assist Mrs. Potter with managing her finances, nor did she believe that Mrs. Potter had trouble with finances.”

Further, Germain’s lawyers say that Potter’s final will better reflected her lifelong wishes and that the museum was not a central part of her life. They say Potter acted entirely on her own when giving Germain so much financial access and control. “Ms. Germain did not know why she was being added to the accounts, did not talk to Mrs. Potter about being added to the accounts, and testified that this was something that Mrs. Potter decided to do on her own,” according to her brief.

Libby, of the Kennebunk firm Libby O’Brien Kingsley & Champion, declined to comment or make Germain available for an interview. Frawley, the PMA’s lawyer, also declined to talk on the record.

Goldfarb, Potter’s personal attorney of 45 years until he was fired in June 2014, also said he could not speak at this time. “It’s a delicate thing. If I were to speak about it, it would not reflect upon me in an appropriate manner and it would not reflect well on the court system, so I have to respectfully decline,” he said. “After the trial, I might feel less constrained.”