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UPDATE: Art school in legal dispute with estate's attorneys

Originally published: Jan. 10, 2013
Last modified: Jan. 14, 2013

Jesse Campbell

The Board of Directors of the Paul and Florence Thomas Memorial Art School in Glendale Springs has become immersed in a legal dispute with attorneys of the estate of the late Florence Thomas over assets and estate taxes.  

Pat Considine, president of the school's board of directors, said the governing body was notified in May 2012 that attorneys with Thomas's estate were intending to sell property that was left to the school in order to pay estate taxes. 

Considine said the board was unaware of any additional property that was left to school and believes Thomas's will and living trust protects the school from paying taxes on the property.

Thomas' estate disagrees with the board's assertion, according to the art school's press release and statements made in civil court documents. 

Since then, the board has been notified that the estate's attorneys are challenging the issue of the proper beneficiaries of Thomas's trust. 

According to court documents, on Dec. 18, 1999, Thomas formed the Florence Thomas Living Trust, naming herself as trustee, and her daughter, Betty Plummer, as successor trustee.

Under the terms of the living trust, Plummer was appointed and initially served as the successor trustee of both the FTLT and the Thomas-Plummer Trust. 

According to the same civil document filed on Aug. 28, 2012, Thomas also named several additional individuals and one corporate entity as successor in the event Plummer was unable to serve.

Plummer allegedly later appointed Peter Parish of Jefferson as successor trustee of the FTLT and TPT, on July 16, 2011, thus bypassing the named successor trustees, said civil documents. 

The art school has since requested, but not received, documents that support the appointment of Parish as a successor trustee. 

Considine said the board is seeking legal action to ask a civil court judge to determine the rightful trustee that they should be dealing with and to prevent the rightful trustee from using assets Thomas designated, to the school for the payment of taxes until the court rules on the matter. 

The art school says the FTLT was formed in 1996, and amended in 2003 and again in 2004.

Attorney Grady Lonon drafted the 2004 amendment as counsel to Thomas, according to an answer to a complaint filed Dec. 27, 2012. 

In the 2004 amendment, a new entity named as the Paul and Florence Thomas Art School was to be established by the trustee after the death of Thomas and was ordered to be funded with the remaining assets of the living trust.  

The art school claims it is the sole remainder beneficiary of the living trust.

The art school also admits that Naomi Johnson served as an individual financial advisor for Thomas and Plummer upon her mother's death. 

Plummer was named executor of the estate of Thomas in the will of her mother on Feb. 12, 2003. 

According to an answer in the same suit, Plummer overfunded the TPT by $584,200, a violation of the terms of the trust. 

The art school, however, denies the overfunding of the trust has had or will have any impact on federal and state tax liability. 

Additionally, the school says Lonon did not file a federal tax return and state return, however, the school denies that any such return was required to be filed and that the breach of the FTLT resulting in overfunding had impacted tax liability, said court documents. 

About Thomas 

Florence Thomas, was an Ashe County woman who began her formal art study during the 1930s in Philadelphia. 

She later married Paul Thomas and settled on a large farm in Ashe County near the Virginia border, said an art school press release. 

Following years of continued professional training, Thomas began teaching painting classes for students across the region from the basement of her home.

She continued painting until her death in 2007, at the age of 98.

Upon her death, she left funds needed to establish a nonprofit art school locally. 

For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.