$20 million splits siblings in fight for family fortune

2 sisters seeking shares of inheritance left to their brother

April 05, 1999|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Rose Posner stares into the video camera after signing her 12th and final will. She talks about politics, the weather and the stock market. She reminisces about the Baltimore Colts. Then the talk turns to her fortune.

Are you sure that you don't want to leave your daughters more money? attorney Mark Willen asks.

Breathing with the help of oxygen, the frail woman in the wheelchair is surprisingly emphatic. "They get $100 each," she says.

The bulk of her $20 million estate, she says, goes to her only son and his family.

The highly unusual videotape -- calling to mind John Grisham's latest thriller, "Testament" -- is one of several at the center of a bitter inheritance battle that includes a prominent Mercy Medical Center doctor and his two sisters, one a psychiatrist.

Posner, a former elementary school teacher and homemaker who lived in Lutherville, died Oct. 28, 1996, at age 87 from complications of emphysema. She was the widow of Baltimore lawyer and developer Nathan Posner, who died in 1975 and left her $2.4 million.

Nearly 25 years later, the $2.4 million has multiplied to $20 million -- and divided her children. Dr. Jean Posner Gordon and Judith Ann Geduldig are suing their brother, Dr. David B. Posner, for equal shares of their mother's fortune. The two women say he turned their mother against them.

But Posner, chief of gastroenterology at Mercy, says his mother's last will reflected her anger at her daughters for seeking a court-appointed guardian and trying to imprison her in a nursing home two years before her death.

Whether his mother acted on her own is an issue the court must resolve when the case goes to trial next month in Baltimore County. What is clear from court records and extensive interviews, however, is that this is not the first time the Posner family has turned to the legal system to resolve its conflicts.

Competitive mother

By all accounts, Rose Posner was a strong-willed, smart woman, who gave education her highest priority in raising her three children in the Windsor Hills section of western Baltimore and later in Owings Mills.

"My mother was a brilliant, capable woman. She should have been a structural engineer. She was good at building and fixing things. She built bunk beds and bookshelves that looked as if a cabinetmaker made them," recalled Gordon.

Both she and her brother remember their mother as a competitive person who wanted to keep up with her children even after they were grown.

"When I learned to scuba dive, she learned to scuba dive," said Posner. "She was 60."

Gordon remembers her mother buying a computer when she was 70 and teaching herself to use it.

After her husband died in 1975, Rose Posner went into a depression. She and Geduldig, her elder daughter, quarreled and didn't reconcile until 1994.

Problems worsen

A wider rift in the family occurred later that year when Rose Posner fell ill in Naples, Fla. She was diagnosed with emphysema and pneumonia. Gordon had her flown to Philadelphia, where Mrs. Posner was treated by her brother, internist Dr. Laurence T. Browne. Gordon treated her for sleeplessness. The family subsequently had her admitted to a nursing home in Pennsylvania.

That angered David Posner, who accuses his sister and uncle of unethical conduct for treating their relative -- and of deliberately overmedicating his mother to take control of her money.

Court records show that David Posner's lawyers are preparing to call a Boston doctor as an expert witness to testify that Gordon administered "excessive" amounts of drugs to their mother.

"Is it ever appropriate for a psychiatrist to treat a parent with long-term psychotherapy and drugs?" Posner asked during a recent interview.

Gordon concedes that treating a relative is not widely accepted but said her mother wouldn't go to a psychiatrist. "She wanted me to treat her. I started treating her for sleeplessness.

"Here's a woman who loved me all my life, who trusted me. My brother starts to tell her some fantastic stories," said Gordon, an Owings Mills neuropsychiatrist. "He gets her to thinking I am manipulating her for her money."

Toward the end of Mrs. Posner's life, fighting among her children intensified, with her daughters obtaining a court order to prevent their brother from taking their mother from the Pennsylvania nursing home to Baltimore. They also sought a court-appointed guardian to oversee her financial affairs.

Photo was last straw

But a single photograph might have weighed as heavily as any legal battle in Rose Posner's final will.

Gordon had removed from her mother's Lutherville home a photograph of herself with her father. So angry was Mrs. Posner that she sued her daughter to get the picture back.

"The straw that broke the camel's back was the taking of the photograph and refusing to give it back," said David Posner.

Mrs. Posner's lingering anger about the picture is clearly evident in one videotape. "She gets the picture she stole from me," she says.

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