Last Wishes Still Unfulfilled

Lawyer Wayne Eig with the Bethesda firm Paley Rothman, surrounded by documents in the Green estate case. He represents Nassif.
Lawyer Wayne Eig with the Bethesda firm Paley Rothman, surrounded by documents in the Green estate case. He represents Nassif. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 15, 2007

As a judge, lawyer and businessman, Walter L. Green left a sweeping and indelible mark on the civic and legal landscapes of Prince George's County. A founder of banks and a developer of office buildings, he has been credited with helping to modernize the county's economy.

When he died in 1993 at age 88, Green left a detailed 10-page will and an estate valued at nearly $30 million. His widow, Helen G. Nassif, filed in court to collect her portion -- roughly a third -- two months later.

Fourteen years later, Nassif and Green's children from a previous marriage, Carlton M. Green and Anne G. Fotos, remain engaged in a legal dispute.

The dispute has become unusually protracted -- even by the standards of emotionally charged estate conflicts -- and has turned into a battle of attrition with a slow-motion, seesawing life of its own: victories and defeats, appeals and reversals.

In a 2003 letter that is part of the court record, Nassif characterized the probate battle as "a costly and endless journey of hardship."

Green's will orders specific disbursements of relatively small amounts -- $20,000 to each of six grandchildren, $5,000 to a son-in-law -- and requires that the balance of his estate be split equally three ways among Nassif and his two children.

The legal fight boils down in part to a disagreement over the value of the estate, which includes business and real estate holdings. Green's attorneys recently estimated its value at $17 million. Nassif has rejected that estimate, saying it does not take rising property values into account. Several years ago, she described a $3.2 million settlement offer as "absurd."

An attorney for Fotos, 67, a county resident, did not return a call seeking comment. Carlton Green said he and his sister are acting together in the estate case, an assertion supported by court filings.

Carlton Green, 63, worked his way through college and law school and is a highly regarded lawyer who handles probate cases, among other things. He is a married father of four and lives in the family home in College Park where he and Fotos were raised.

For years, Nassif, 85, has lived in a condominium in Rockville. She is supported by her own assets, she said, and wants the estate matter to be resolved mainly so she can make a large philanthropic donation in honor of her late husband.

The two sides agree on little except that there was no acrimony between them before Green died and that the seemingly endless dispute has taken on a quality of unreality.

"It's a lot like watching a show on TV -- almost like we're not the people involved," Nassif said. "It's weird."

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