A jury will decide whether an elderly woman’s caretaker wrongfully convinced her to remove a large gift to the Portland Museum of Art from her will before she died.

Eleanor G. Potter, a wealthy art collector who lived in Portland, changed her will just months before she died in 2015. She removed the museum as her primary beneficiary and instead left most of her estate to her caretaker, Annemarie Germain. The museum is suing Germain, saying she wrongfully dissuaded Potter from donating as much as $2 million.

A jury trial began Monday at the Cumberland County Courthouse. The two sides gave the jury contrasting pictures of Germain during their opening statements.

Thimi Mina, who represents the museum, said Germain slowly gained a foothold in Potter’s life over years. She cared for Potter part time, but when the older woman sustained a hip injury in 2012, Germain moved into the house full time. Mina said Germain isolated Potter from her family, threatened to leave her and convinced Potter that she could communicate with her deceased husband.

“Mrs. Potter became more pensive, less welcoming, less candid and less accessible – traits that were out of character for her based on her past relationships with her family,” Mina said in his opening statement. “The evidence will be clear that Eleanor Potter was subjected to a regular campaign of misinformation by Ms. Germain, concerning not only her grandchildren, but also her longtime attorney and family confidant.”

Tyler Smith, who represents Germain, said the two women liked to shop and spend time together. Germain moved from Biddeford to Portland at Potter’s request after her injury, and Potter called her “my Anna.” He said she told a doctor at the end of her life that she wanted to give Germain a good life.

“What started out as a friendship turned into a close mother-daughter relationship,” Smith said.

Tyler Smith, a lawyer for Annemarie Germain, presents his opening argument Monday at the Cumberland County Courthouse. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Smith also said Germain never helped Potter with her finances, and he suggested that her longtime attorney pressured Potter to donate to the museum because he and his wife were benefactors there.

“I do not see undue influence here, only a dedicated friend,” he said of Germain.

Germain sat in the courtroom next to one of her attorneys, but did not speak on the first day of trial. At one point, as the attorneys conferred quietly with the judge at the bench, she read one of the documents in front of her and shook her head.

Potter, a widow with no children, was 89 when she died in March 2015. She collected art and antiques, and she was active at the PMA as a member of the leadership committee and a member of the board of the Victoria Mansion Society.

Her husband was Newell Potter, who owned Warren Furniture in Biddeford and Westbrook before he died in 2004. Germain had previously worked at Warren Furniture, and she acted as caretaker for Eleanor Potter at the end of her life and lived at her home near Back Cove.

Court documents reveal a messy dispute between the museum and Germain.

Thimi Mina, a lawyer for the Portland Museum of Art, presents his opening argument Monday at the Cumberland County Courthouse. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

When Newell Potter died, he left his assets to his widow. They had created reciprocal wills in the 1990s, and Eleanor Potter updated her will to include her sister in 2013. That will and estate plan included $500,000 to care for Potter’s sister, smaller gifts to her stepdaughter and stepgrandchildren, and the gift of her Parson Road home to Germain. The balance would go to the museum, likely between $1.2 million and $2 million.

Potter executed that updated will in March 2014. But court documents show that she soon turned to a new attorney to redo it. She ultimately executed a new will in October 2014 that left her entire estate to Germain.

The museum filed the lawsuit against Germain in August 2017. The nine jurors – six men and three women – will be asked to decide the civil claims by a preponderance of the evidence, or whether they are more likely to be true or false. The trial is scheduled to continue all week.

Related Headlines


Comments are not available on this story.