MONTPELIER (AP).- A 2½-year-old probate battle involving the heirs of children's book author and illustrator Tasha Tudor goes to trial Monday, with her adult children fighting over the legitimacy of the will controlling her $2 million estate.
At issue: Whether Tudor was unduly influenced when she rewrote it to give nearly everything to her oldest son.
Tudor, who quit school after the eighth grade, won a worldwide following with her whimsical watercolors and drawings in "Pumpkin Moonshine," ''Corgiville Fair," and "Little Women," among nearly 100 children's books she illustrated or wrote. In words and deed, Tudor celebrated old-fashioned family life at home, becoming known for her anachronistic lifestyle often going barefoot, wearing vintage dresses or making linen for her own clothing and living in a replica of an 18th-century New England farmhouse built by her sons, in Marlboro, Vt.
Tudor, 92, died in 2008 of complications from a series of strokes.
Her 2001 will requested that her cremated remains be buried with her beloved predeceased Corgis and the ashes of her pet rooster.
It left her copyrights and most of her assets to sons Seth Tudor and Thomas Tudor and Seth's son, Winslow Tudor, giving only $1,000 each to daughters Bethany Tudor and Efner Tudor Holmes.
But an amended 2002 version cut out Thomas, save for an antique highboy, because of his "estrangement" from Tudor.
Thomas Tudor, of Fairfax, Va., contends his brother wielded undue influence over their mother and that there are suspicious circumstances surrounding the changes in the will.
Seth Tudor's lawyer, Richard Coutant, says there is no evidence Seth Tudor had any role in the preparation of either version of the will. Seth Tudor, whose property adjoins his mother's, runs Tasha Tudor and Family, a business that sells her books, greeting cards and home furnishing accessories.
He declined to comment for this article.
In his only public statements about the rift, he said after a court hearing in July that he and his family have been unfairly portrayed in news accounts about the estate battle.
"We've been very unfairly characterized by the news, because we haven't spoke to the news people. And some of the things that have been said are absolutely untrue, and extremely unfair, and highly detrimental to our image."
It's Tasha Tudor's image that may take the beating in the five-day trial, which opens Monday in Superior Court in Newfane.
"People are going to see a very different side of the Tasha Tudor lifestyle," said Mark Schwartz, a lawyer representing Thomas Tudor. "That's sad, quite frankly."
Much of Thomas Tudor's case draws on statements by a longtime Tudor friend, Amelia Stauffer, of Ada, Ohio, whom the artist befriended in the late 1970s and considered something of an adopted sister.
Stauffer, who spoke with Tudor by telephone daily and visited her Marlboro, Vt., home every other month in some years, says Tudor complained to her about wearing shoes with holes in them, going cold because she didn't have wood for the fire and having to pay Seth Tudor to get things done because he wouldn't act unless she paid him.
In a deposition last March, Stauffer said Seth had cut off telephone communications between her and Tasha Tudor because the phone bills were getting too high. Stauffer, who was left $10,000 by Tudor in her will, also said that Tudor's prescriptions were going unfilled because Seth Tudor felt she didn't need them.
Stauffer didn't identify the prescriptions or what they were for when she was questioned by lawyers preparing for the trial. Tudor told Stauffer she had trouble with dizziness, according to Stauffer.
Marlboro Probate Court Judge Robert Pu, who will preside over the trial, must decide first who has the burden of proof Seth Tudor, to prove there was no undue influence, or Thomas Tudor, to prove there was. In court filings, each has insisted the other has the burden.
All four of Tudor's children and some of her grandchildren are on witness lists submitted by the parties and may testify.
"I just hope that justice is done," said Thomas Tudor.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.