A Family Divided

Article from: The Boston Globe (Boston, MA): Article date – July 9, 2003: Author: STEVE BAILEY

They were Boston’s leading architectural couple, Ben and Jane Thompson. She was the urban planner; he was the architect whose vision turned Faneuil Hall Marketplace into a Boston icon that helped revive the city and launch a string of downtown “festival marketplaces” around the country. Food, like cities, was a passion for them both, and together they ran several very good restaurants, including Harvest, not far from their elegant Cambridge home. And along the way they raised seven children – his five and her two.

Ben Thompson died last August at 84, nearly 10 years after suffering a stroke. Now, a year after his death, Jane Thompson and four of her husband’s five children are at odds over an estate that runs into the millions of dollars, including a stake in Washington, D.C.’s cavernous Union Station, which Thompson helped renovate. Jane Thompson and the children are scheduled to meet tomorrow in an attempt to settle their differences. Neither side – and no one will comment for the record – seems optimistic about finding a solution.

At the center of the conflict, say those familiar with the legal proceedings, are at least four wills and additional amendments Ben Thompson filed over the past 20 years. As is customary in such cases, say lawyers experienced in estate law, the issue will be: Was Ben Thompson mentally competent at the time he changed his will? And did anyone have undue influence over him in the final years of his life?

In papers filed in Middlesex County Probate Court, Thompson’s grown children have asked for additional time to file objections to the will, and Jane Thompson, his wife of 33 years, has complained that the time for delay has passed. “The objectors have had seven months to investigate and gather facts to support an affidavit of objections, but have not done so. The delay is inexcusable,” her attorney, Edward Notis-McConarty, said in one filing.

The four children who have raised objections are: Benjamin Thompson Jr., of Cambridge; Nicholas Thompson, of Lexington; Anthony Thompson, of Washington; and Marina Thompson, of Nahant. They are represented by attorney Brian Bixby, best known for winning a settlement for the sister of a bag lady who died in 1985 and left an estate of $500,000 to a state legislator. A fifth child, Deborah Thompson Dow, of Lexington, has not joined the complaint. None of the children would comment; Jane Thompson did not return a call.

In an effort to find a resolution, Edward M. Ginsburg, a retired probate judge, was named as a temporary administrator. Earlier this year, Ginsburg was appointed to head a panel charged with deciding whether the state should press Big Dig contractors to refund money to the state for past mistakes.

Steve Bailey is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at 617-929-2902 or at bailey@globe.com.