June 5 marked the end of a civil trial that examined the will of an uneducated, heavy-equipment operator from Mifflin and speculated on his motives for selecting his heirs.
In his will, Charles Miller left money – a lot of money – to unexpected beneficiaries, none of them a blood relative. His relatives have protested the will because they believe Charles Miller became confused and delusional after having a stroke prior to selecting his heirs.
That a Last Will and Testament is contested in Juniata County is an unusual event, but not necessarily newsworthy.
What is noteworthy is the amount of Charles Miller’s estate – $1.4 million – amassed by a man described as conservative, stubborn and deliberate, who had a hobby of collecting soda cans in Mifflin and Mifflintown to recycle. Also noteworthy are four of the beneficiaries he selected – two local governments, a sewer authority and the county’s young athletes.
The two Charles Millers
In the court proceedings, and in transcripts and hearings surrounding his will, two pictures were painted of Charles Miller.
One thing that everyone agrees upon is that prior to 1996, the year he had a stroke, Charles Miller was a hardworking, stubborn man. He was a man who handled his own finances and he was not a big spender. Instead, he carefully invested his money, eschewing worldly goods.
In testimony presented before the court, Charles Miller was described as a man who enjoyed spending time with his friends, visiting his cabin whenever possible – hunting, fishing, taking walks through the area and swapping hunting stories with visitors.
He was born Oct. 10, 1926, to Charles S. and Myrtle G. Miller, the oldest of eight children in a family that struggled to make ends meet.
In the eighth or ninth grade, Charles Miller left school and began working in order to help his parents keep food on the table.
One common theme of the testimony before the court was Charles Miller’s life of close ties to his family and a solid work ethic.
On Oct. 27, 1945, Charles Miller joined the United States Army, and for a year served in a signal service battalion before he was honorably discharged in October 1946.
After his military service, he worked in construction, saving his money and investing it carefully. He joined a union and ran his own small business, working in various locations.
In 1976, the story of Charles Miller’s Last Will and Testament really begins, through a casual friendship.
That was the year that Charles Miller met his eventual fiance, Mary Ellen Weyandt, through her late husband.
The friends lost contact as the years went by, but, in 1991, they ran into each other once again in Mifflintown.
The two began casually dating and spending time together. They enjoyed nights out at the Moose Lodge in Lewistown and at the Mifflintown VFW, as well as walks together around the twin boroughs.
Weyandt described Charles Miller as “a very, very easy person to get along with,” who was always more than willing to help her out around the house. At first their relationship was a friendship – it was not until after years of dating that the two became closer companions.
In 1996, Charles Miller suffered a stroke. Thus, the tale of the two Charles Millers begins. Some say he was a loving, helpful companion – others say he was a confused, damaged man who suffered from delusions that tore his family apart.
In order to understand the two stories of Charles Miller, one must first understand his Last Will and Testament. The document, written eight years after his stroke in 2004, is at the center of what has become a year-long legal battle.
Last Will and Testament
On June 14, 2004, Charles Miller signed a Last Will and Testament, prepared by attorney Harold E. “Junior”” Powell Jr. But Powell was not the first attorney Charles Miller had approached regarding his will.
Earlier that spring, Charles Miller asked attorney Don Zagurskie, of Mifflin, to prepare his will. In testimony before the court, Zagurskie said Charles Miller directed him as to how he wished his money to be used after he passed away. He also asked Zagurskie to be the executor for his estate, which Zagurskie declined.
That led to a rift between Charles Miller and Zagurskie, which eventually led Charles Miller across the river to Powell’s door in Mifflintown.
In his will prepared by Powell, Charles Miller set out who, or what, would receive money from his estate. The value of his estate was, at that time, relatively unknown.
He wished to leave $100,000 to Weyandt, with whom he was living. Another $100,000 was to go to one of his brothers, Darwin Miller.
The remainder was to be split four ways: $100,000 to the the Borough of Mifflin; $100,000 to the Borough of Mifflintown; $100,000 to the Twin Boroughs Sanitary Sewer Authority, to “offset the sewer bills of the residents of the Borough of Mifflin and the Borough of Mifflintown.”
And finally, Charles Miller bequeathed the remainder of his estate to a non–profit corporation to be formed by Powell. That money, the will stated, should be distributed “for male and female athletes of Juniata County, Pennsylvania, between the ages of 12 thru 18 years of age as Harold E. Powell Jr. sees fit.”
That was Charles Miller’s first will. However, in 2001, he had previously established a trust fund, which first listed one of his brothers, Wayne Miller, as the sole beneficiary, and later, his church, the Messiah Lutheran Church, as beneficiary.
That trust fund – $50,000 – was given to the church in honor of his parents, who had passed away.
Over the years, the family attorney said Wayne Miller assisted his older brother with his finances and business and helped nurse Charles Miller after his stroke in 1996.
Wayne Miller, however, was not mentioned in the 2004 will because of a falling out between the two. Darwin Miller was the only brother named as a beneficiary.
In October 2006, 10 years after his stroke and less than a year before his death, Charles Miller wrote a codicil to his will. Darwin Miller was out. Charles Miller bequeathed an additional $200,000 to Weyandt, $200,000 to her daughter, Susan K. Becker, and $100,000 to Weyandt’s grandson, Charles Becker. The amounts bequeathed to the twin boroughs, the sewer authority and youth sports also remained in the will.
Due to the will and codicil, when Charles Miller died, a legal battle began. At stake – $1.4 million.
A mind divided
Charles Miller was at his cabin when the stroke hit, Weyandt testified.
He knew something was wrong, but not what, so he drove from the cabin to Weyandt’s Mifflintown home. She said she had him lie down and get comfortable while they talked about what they should do.
Charles Miller went to see Dr. L.G. Guiser, who referred him to Lewistown Hospital, where his stroke was diagnosed.
As a result of the stroke, Charles Miller had trouble speaking, but continued to live on his own and drive. It was not until six years later, in 2002, that he began staying at Weyandt’s home overnight.
That change occurred because Weyandt was recovering from a hysterectomy. At first, Charles Miller came over to take care of her, cook her meals and water the flowers. But gradually he began staying over, although he maintained his home in Mifflin until he died.
Later that year, he bought her a ring from Foss Jewelers in Mifflintown they had picked out together.
“He said he wanted us to be engaged,” Weyandt said, although the two never married.
“We just got along so good together as things were,” she said when asked in court why they never tied the knot.
At that time, Weyandt said, she had no idea that he was worth more than $1 million.
During the same period, things were not well within the Miller clan.
For some reason – a source of debate – Charles Miller had a falling out with his family – a falling out that is the main source of contention in the lawsuit.
His family contends that after his stroke, Charles Miller began having delusions. He began to believe that his brother, Wayne Miller, had caused him to lose his job as a construction worker and had, in some way, stolen money from him.
The family members and their attorney say Charles Miller retired in 1991, and the conflict did not begin until five years later – a result of Charles Miller’s confusion, caused by the stroke.
The family’s lawyer, Judith F. Dolgos, contends Charles Miller had developed a “delusion” that his brother Wayne caused him to lose his job.
In court testimony, it was revealed that there was a phone call made to the Miller family house in 1991. At that time, Charles Miller was still working, receiving his jobs through the union, which would call the house and let him know where and when he was working.
The union called, but Charles Miller didn’t answer. Charles Miller’s story, according to testimony, was that Wayne Miller answered the call, but didn’t provide Charles Miller with the information. As a result, he lost the job and never worked again.
Wayne Miller and the family contend that Charles Miller did not lose his job, but instead chose to retire. His job loss, they said, was a hallucination of his damaged mind. But, it was a story Charles Miller believed, according to all accounts, and he would argue about it until the day he died.
The family said the story led to strife between the brothers, who at the time were both residing at the family home on Path Street in Mifflin.
The argument spilled into court in 2004, when Wayne Miller filed a civil complaint against his brother for unpaid costs related to the upkeep of the home. The two jointly owned and lived on the property after the death of their parents. The case went into arbitration. As a result, Charles Miller paid Wayne Miller $20,000 – and assumed complete ownership of the family home.
Michael Jackson, a medical doctor Dolgos brought in as a consultant, reviewed Charles Miller’s medical records after his death and, in a letter to the court, offered his opinion that Charles Miller was a man who suffered from “functional and cognitive defects.”
Those defects, Jackson said, led to Charles Miller’s delusions concerning his brother and the loss of his job.
Dolgos also contends Charles Miller had “on-going, significant brain damage” as a result of the stroke, which left him without “testamentary capacity.”
Testamentary capacity is a legal term that requires the testator (one making a will) to be, in more common terms, “of sound mind.”
It was during this period — after his stroke in 1996 until his death in 2007 — that Charles Miller established his Last Will and Testament.
Of sound mind
In order to generate a will in Pennsylvania, a person must have testamentary capacity.
According to the law, a person who has testamentary capacity generally understands the nature and extent of his property, his relationships to other people and the effects of his will.
Conceivably, survivors of a massive stroke may be unable to recognize or understand familiar objects the way they did prior to the stroke.
That is what Jackson said he believed happened after Miller’s stroke.
“I find that these delusions had a direct effect on Mr. Miller’s state of mind and his testamentary capacity,” Jackson wrote.
Those delusions “likely caused him to create a will that would have been different if these delusions had not been present, or if the delusions had been successfully treated,” Jackson said.
And that is the linchpin of Dolgos’ argument.
“But for the delusion, there would have been a different will ... more in keeping with the trust,” Dolgos said in court. “It all comes back to the weakened intellect.”
If there was one man who could probably lay to rest Charles Miller’s mental condition, it would have been his personal doctor.
His doctor would have examined Charles Miller before and after the stroke, and, more than likely, during his battle with the cancer that ultimately stole his life.
Unfortunately, Charles Miller’s doctor died in May 2007.
L. G. Guiser was a prominent physician in Juniata County. For years he had cared for many people in the county, many of them “from the cradle to the grave.”
His word was trusted, and his testimony would likely have weighed heavily in how the case is ultimately decided.
Instead, the only remaining medical opinions are expressed in documents – snapshots of different periods of Charles Miller’s life.
Filed among the court documents regarding the case are notes from Guiser, based on visits to his office. They are short, scribbled notes in doctor’s shorthand and fail to illuminate much for the layman.
Also in the file are a series of reports revolving around a car crash Charles Miller was involved in on Aug. 24, 2004.
In those reports, Charles Miller was described as being confused, disoriented.
In one, an EMT said he was “unable to communicate in a coherent way verbally.”
“It appears he has a change in mental status secondary to (the motor vehicle accident),” wrote one doctor.
It was after reviewing these medical records, and having never met Charles Miller in person, that Jackson wrote his opinion to the court.
“By 2004, the records depict a man who was dependent on others, and who experienced periods of confusion and disorientation,” he wrote.
Another brother, Ellwood Miller, later testified that he did not believe his brother had written or directed the will filed in his name.
“He was never civic minded,” Ellwood Miller testified. “He certainly wasn’t sports minded outside of hunting and fishing. So to me, I couldn’t see my brothers handprints on any of that stuff.”
A legacy established
Jackson’s letter and conclusions, based on his review of medical records, paints one side of Charles Miller’s portrait.
The other side comes out through the testimony of Juniata County lawyers, bankers and the Weyandt family.
Instead of a confused, mentally disoriented person, their testimony depicts a man who was smart, a savvy investor who watched his money closely and who directed how, exactly, he wanted his will be to written.
Most telling is the testimony of Zagurskie, who had turned down Charles Miller’s offer to become executor of his estate.
Zagurskie said Charles Miller had visited him in 2004, to discuss a possible will and other matters.
At the time, Charles Miller was heavily invested in municipal tax-free bonds. The market was fluctuating and the future of the bonds was far from certain.
The bank handling his accounts sent letters to Charles Miller, recommending he move his money to different investments. But he didn’t. And instead of losing money, he made money.
In his testimony, Zagurskie said Charles Miller was “certainly aware” of his assets and could talk intelligently and in depth regarding his investments and tax-free bonds.
Weyandt also testified that the bank Charles Miller did business with once lost a deposit he had made.
While the bank could not locate records of the transaction, Charles Miller could – and did – ultimately resulting in the transaction being re–recorded.
At the end of his testimony, Zagurskie said Charles Miller, in his opinion, possessed “testamentary capacity.”
It was Charles Miller, Zagurskie said, who also directed a number of devices into his will. He wanted the money set aside for the municipalities to be doled out in $10,000 increments over 10 years, so as to not be spent all at once.
Charles Miller also told Zagurskie the money dedicated to youth sports also should be set aside, with dividends or interest made available to fund projects such as a baseball stadium.
It was a careful, deliberate document, Zagurskie said, not the work of a man who had trouble with basic daily functions.
When asked why Charles Miller had directed some of his money toward civic institutions, Zagurskie had a simple answer.
“He wanted a legacy,” he said.
At the end
Early in 2007, Charles Miller knew he was dying.
He had found the lump in his chest – the sign of the cancer – and together he and Weyandt went first to Guiser and then to Lewistown Hospital, where Charles Miller would die.
He underwent treatment for the cancer, but it was to no avail.
Weyandt knew Charles Miller had left her money. She was there when the will and, later, the codicil, were signed.
Before 2004, Weyandt said she knew Charles Miller’s income came from social security, union pay and the money he made from collecting cans – but she was unaware of his estate’s value.
“I was aware he had money, but it was his money, not mine,” she testified.
In 2004, Charles Miller asked her to visit Powell with him, to draw up his will. She had not accompanied him when he first visited Zagurskie, the attorney said.
“He told me to go along (with him), and told Mr. Powell what he wanted done,” she said. “I did not know what he was going to do.”
Charles Miller directed Powell to list Weyandt as a beneficiary, leaving her $100,000 after his death.
He told her, she testified, that the money was to provide for her until she died.
Weyandt said she was “flabbergasted,” at the amount, and that she told Charles Miller she hoped she would never receive it.
“I wanted to leave this world before him,” she said.
Weyandt said she visited him daily as he grew weaker, closer to the end.
March 22, 2007, was not a remarkable day. The skies were partly cloudy and the temperature had risen from the mid-40s earlier in the week to the mid-60s.
In Juniata County, state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, was visiting, while in Mifflin County, the school board met that evening to discuss plans for the new Indian Valley High School.
At 8 p.m., Charles Miller died.
On March 26, 2007, he was laid to rest in Westminister Presbyterian Cemetery, Mifflintown. His final resting place is near the top of the hill in the cemetery, next to his mother and father, a stone’s throw from the road.
No stone marks his grave, just a bronze veteran’s flag holder and a small plastic sign: “Charles M. ‘Bub’ Miller.”
On April 13, 2007, his brother, Ellwood Miller, filed an objection to the probate of Charles Miller’s Last Will and Testament and the adjoining codicil.
In his objection, Ellwood Miller contends that his brother was not of a sound mind, was delusional, and that Weyandt exerted not only undue influence over his brother, but also an “overmastering influence,” taking advantage of his weakened intellect.
His objection contends that Weyandt, along with her daughter and son, knew of Charles Miller’s delusional conflict with his family, and “they had the opportunity to feed into said delusion.”
In the judge’s hands
The case now rests before the Honorable J. Michael Williamson, the president judge of Clinton County.
Williamson was assigned the case after Juniata County Judge C. Joseph Rehkamp recused himself in April 2007.
After the closing arguments on June 5, Williamson ordered the attorneys involved in the case to have written briefs filed within 10 days.
The judge then will review the arguments on both sides before delivering his decision and deciding who the real Charles Miller was.
Was he, in the words of Dolgos, a brain-damaged, confused man in a conflict with his family over a fictional incident which was a product only of his imagination?
Why had he not included Wayne Miller, a man who Dolgos said was close to Charles Miller, in his will?
Did brain damage, caused by a stroke, cause Charles Miller to turn on Wayne Miller, a man who Dolgos said was, “the one person who has taken the most significant care of him?”
“This is a man from an extremely close family,” Dolgos said in her closing argument. “Up until the time he passed, his family still loved him, still sent him cards.”
Or, was Charles Miller of a sound mind. Was he Weyandt’s Charles Miller – a loving, caring man who enjoyed baking cookies?
Was he, after his stroke, the same man who parlayed a construction worker’s salary into a small fortune at the time of his passing?
Randy Zimmerman, Weyandt’s attorney, said he “doesn’t follow” Dolgos’ theory.
“What bothers me (is) you have all these folks — tax collectors, lawyers, bankers ... everyone said he was his own man,” Zimmerman said. “He knew what he was doing. Someone just didn’t like it.”
Zimmerman said he believes that Charles Miller was the Charles Miller who Weyandt remembers.
Weyandt, for her part, remembers a man who cared for his friends and, until the parting of ways, was close to his family.
Weyandt said she remembers a man who would rise early in the morning and eat breakfast with her before going to his house to check on the property. Later each day he would return to her home for lunch, and the two would pass the evenings before retiring for the day – together, she said.
They spent time at the cabin, taking walks in the afternoons through the woods. They baked cookies together and he kept her flowers watered. They never married, they never felt the need. They preferred to keep things how they were, which, she said, worked well for both of them. Charles Miller, she said, became a part of her family, as dear to her as her daughter.
When asked in court how she felt about Charles Miller, Weyandt replied simply – “I loved him.”
Charles Miller’s final resting place is beside his parents here, in Westminister Presbyterian Cemetery, Mifflintown.