Chief Judge Philip West of the Oconee Judicial Circuit signed an order Oct. 3 that dismissed a motion filed by Herman Eugene “Gene” Talmadge Jr. and SunTrust Bank in Atlanta to have the case concerning the will of his aunt, Margaret Talmadge Shepherd, moved to probate court, where most wills are validated, or to the county of residence of one of the defendants. A motion to dismiss the suit which questioned the validity of the will was also denied. The hearing was held Aug. 19 in Telfair County.
Shepherd is the daughter of former Gov. Eugene Talmadge and sister of former governor and senator Herman Talmadge. She died Dec. 5, 2001, at the age of 85.
Shepherd’s great-niece, Galen Peterson of McRae, filed suit in Telfair County Superior Court in February to nullify a 1997 will that names Gene Talmadge as co-executor and primary beneficiary of the will. The will had been probated without a hearing and Peterson asked the case be moved to superior court, which was granted.
Peterson, a nurse, claims for three years she was primary caregiver to Shepherd. The suit contends that Shepherd executed the 1997 will “by undue influence and persuasion” of Gene Talmadge and that he may have hidden or destroyed a second will which named Peterson, 43, beneficiary.
Peterson’s attorney, McMillan Walker of Dublin, argues there was a contract to make a will by Shepherd which named Peterson as beneficiary, and is contesting the 1997 will which named Gene Talmadge executor.
“I can’t understand why the defendants in this case are so dead set to not have it tried in Telfair County because that is where the Talmadge legacy originated,” Walker said. “There are seven state historical markers in Telfair County, one of which is a few miles below McRae on Highway 341 in front of the Talmadge homeplace where Margaret Talmadge Shepherd lived the last 20 years of her life.”
Attorneys for the defendants have sought to have all or part of the case tried outside Telfair County.
Macon attorney Hubert Lovein, who represents SunTrust Bank, said the case challenging the will should be argued in probate court and the allegation of the oral contract to make a will be tried in the county of residence of one of the defendants.
SunTrust operates in Fulton County and Gene Talmadge lives in Henry County. He has disputed Peterson’s basic contention that Shepherd wished to disinherit him.
Walker predicted the case could come to trial within the next six months.
Lovein said the defendants will appeal.
“We have the utmost respect for Judge West,” he said. “We do believe the order is erroneous and will do our best to appeal it.