Artist’s children file malpractice suit in estate battle

Margarete Bagshaw

In a new lawsuit — the latest move in an ongoing legal battle over late modernist painter Margarete Bagshaw’s estate — the children of the Santa Fe artist accuse the attorney for her estate of malpractice.

Attorney W. Anthony Sawtell, Bagshaw’s children say in the complaint, drafted a new will shortly before she died last year that grants much of their anticipated inheritance to her second husband, who they claim took advantage of her deteriorating health to secure much of the estate for himself.

Bagshaw descended from a family of prominent Native American artists. She was the daughter of Helen Hardin and granddaughter of Santa Clara Pueblo painter Pablita Velarde, who pursued art at a time when men dominated the craft. Bagshaw became known for her own abstract, colorful style.

The artist suffered a stroke in early 2015, was subsequently diagnosed with brain cancer, then died, at age 50, only a few weeks later on March 19, 2015.

Bagshaw’s children, Helen and Forrest Tindel, last year filed a probate case alleging that her second husband, Dan McGuinness influenced their mother to sign a new will as she was dying.

The siblings said Bagshaw had executed a will in 2006 after divorcing their father and after becoming romantically involved with McGuinness.

“Although Margarete allowed herself to be swept off her feet romantically by McGuinness, he had a history of unsuccessful and shady business dealings,” lawyer Benjamin Allison wrote in the court complaint filed last week on behalf of the siblings. The lawsuit alleges that McGuinness was engaged in a tax scheme while the couple lived in the U.S. Virgin Islands. “In her 2006 will, Margarete gave nothing to McGuinness and gave her entire estate to her children.”

The will named Bagshaw’s children as the heirs to her collection of jewelry and pottery, all of her paintings, intellectual property rights and those of her mother and grandmother.

The siblings were to receive one half of the estate when they turned 25 and the remainder when they turned 30, according to the lawsuit.

Around that time, Bagshaw moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands to live with McGuinness. The two had met when a mutual friend arranged for the two to go to an art opening together. The couple spent three years running a music studio in the Caribbean, but the lawsuit filed last week by Bagshaw’s children suggests the enterprise was a failure in which investors — including McGuiness’ mother — lost everything.

The couple returned to New Mexico in 2009, according to the lawsuit.

Before Bagshaw married McGuinness, court records indicate, she first prepared a prenuptial agreement keeping their property separate. The couple ran a business together, Golden Dawn Gallery, and opened a now-defunct museum dedicated to the work of Native women.

After suffering a stroke in early 2015, the lawsuit alleges, Bagshaw lost most of her cognitive function and decision-making capacity.

Doctors subsequently found a rapidly growing tumor on her brain, according to the lawsuit.

Bagshaw could talk at times, but she did not recognize her own daughter, the lawsuit says. The artist is said not to have known she had cancer. When asked why she was in the hospital, Bagshaw said she had suffered an asthma attack, but she never had asthma, according to the lawsuit. Asked on another occasion, Bagshaw allegedly said she had been drugged at a Lyle Lovett concert.

After she spent several days at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, McGuinness took Bagshaw home on Jan. 24, 2015, to live in hospice care, the lawsuit says. He is alleged to have immediately hired Sawtell, the lawyer, and set about preparing a new will.

“McGuinness and Sawtell worked quickly to secure Margarete’s considerable estate for McGuinness at the expense of the rightful beneficiaries of her estate, her children,” the lawsuit says.

McGuinness declined to comment when reached by phone Wednesday.

The lawsuit claims that Sawtell never met with Bagshaw and that McGuinness served as the only intermediary between her and the lawyer.

Sawtell was out of town when a reporter called his office and did not respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.

The lawsuit claims Sawtell never inquired about Bagshaw’s 2006 will and never determined if she had the mental capacity to execute a new will.

Meanwhile, McGuinness had a lot to gain, the lawsuit says. “As a spouse with only debts married to a wife with enormous assets, McGuinness had a conflict of interest with Margarete in estate planning matters,” Allison wrote.

Sawtell never inquired about that conflict and failed to ask basic questions about his client, the lawsuit alleges. “While purporting to represent her, Sawtell undid Margarete’s entire estate plan,” Allison wrote.

The new will allegedly was drafted through a flurry of emails between Sawtell and McGuinness.

The result was a will less than two pages in length that gave Bagshaw’s children none of their mother’s paintings and allowed them only a few pieces of jewelry and two each of what the lawsuit describes as “lesser paintings” by their grandmother and great-grandmother. But the will also gave McGuinness the ability to “veto” their choices.

The will granted Bagshaw’s children her home in Albuquerque on the condition they pay off a $30,000 mortgage.

The artist’s home in Lamy, as well as intellectual property rights, gallery and other business interests, cars and much of her art, went to McGuinness under the new will.

Sawtell also drafted papers granting McGuinness power of attorney, which Bagshaw signed Jan. 28, 2015, the lawsuit says. But Allison alleges in the civil complaint that she did not have the capacity to do so.

Lawyers representing McGuinness filed an answer to many of these allegations as part of the probate case last year. The lawyers denied that he influenced Bagshaw’s estate planning and claimed he was not present when she signed the will. Moreover, McGuinness and his attorneys argued that Bagshaw had adequate mental capacity to make such decisions.

The probate case continues to wend through state District Court. A judge agreed last month to let McGuinness continue operating the Golden Dawn Gallery, but another hearing on the case is scheduled Aug. 1.

Court filings by McGuinness’ attorneys depict Bagshaw as having a complicated relationship with her children, who apparently objected to her second marriage.

“My children accused me of choosing Dan over them,” she wrote in an essay cited in one court filing. “That was not true — I chose Dan for me and independence for my children.”

Contact Andrew Oxford at 505-986-3092 or aoxford@sfnewmexican.com.

Correction, March 25, 2016

This story has been amended to reflect the following correction: An earlier version incorrectly reported that Margarete Bagshaw was discharged Presbyterian Hospital after her stroke in January 2015. She was discharged from the University of New Mexico Hospital.

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