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Heirs to Luray Cavern take fight to court

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

The heirs of the Luray Caverns owners are suing each other in federal court two months after the death of their mother.

John H.H. Graves, James R.O. Graves and Cornelia G. Spain filed a complaint Monday in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg against their sisters, Elizabeth Graves Vitu and Katherine G. Fichtler, according to online court records.

The plaintiffs are seeking a declaratory judgment finding that the defendants violated the no-contest provisions of their late parents' trusts.

The complaint states that John, James and Cornelia Graves are co-trustees of the H.T.N. Graves Trust and the Rebecca Jackson Graves Trust. Their sister Elizabeth lives in France, while their other sister Katherine lives in Montana, according to the complaint. It states there is a fourth sister, Rebecca "Becca" Hudson, and another son, Harry, who died before his parents and without children.

H.T.N. (Henry Theodore Northcott) Graves died in July 2010. According to his obituary, his grandfather bought Luray Caverns in 1905, and H.T.N. Graves was president of the company for more than 50 years, until 2008.

The Page County tourist site also includes a car and carriage museum, restaurant, motels, golf course and the Luray Valley Museum, according to the obituary.

Rebecca Jackson Graves died on April 6, according to the complaint.

Both Graves' trusts were executed in November 2006, and had no-contest provisions, according to the complaint. Those provisions related to the trusts of the late Theodore Clay and Belle Brown Northcott, who were H.T.N. Graves' grandparents, according to the complaint.

The Northcott trusts had nearly all of the stock of Luray Caverns Corporation as of 2004, the suit states.

The trusts call for any heir and that heir's descendants to be removed from the will if he or she were to "in any way, directly or indirectly, challenge, contest or object" to H.T.N. or Rebecca Jackson Graves' or their attorney's choice of a trustee for the Northcott trusts, or attempt to have Rebecca Jackson Graves removed as trustee of either trust,or challenge any of her actions in relation to them.

Such actions would result in the former beneficiary losing any entitlements "as if such beneficiary and all of his or her issue had predeceased the Grantor."

The same would apply if any of the beneficiaries besides Cornelia, John or James tried to have a conservator or guardian appointed for H.T.N. or Rebecca Jackson Graves, according to the complaint.

"The No Contest Provisions were necessitated by a series of intra-family disputes beginning in the Fall of 2004," the complaint states. "Becca, Katherine and Elizabeth generally took adverse positions to their parents with respect to various issues related to Luray Caverns Corporation."

A co-trustee of the Bella Brown Northcott Trust resigned and filed lawsuits, the complaint says, and H.T.N. and Rebecca Jackson Graves sought to have a new co-trustee appointed. Katherine and Elizabeth opposed their choice of trustee, as well as a second co-trustee the next year, it states. However, the sisters later withdrew their opposition to the second co-trustee.

"John, Rod, and Cornelia, as Co-Trustees of the H.T.N. Graves Trust and the Rebecca Jackson Graves Trust are bringing this Declaratory Judgment Action against Katherine and Elizabeth to obtain a declaration that the No Contest Provisions have been triggered and that Katherine and Elizabeth are therefore excluded as beneficiaries under both the H.T.N. Graves Trust and the Rebecca Jackson Graves Trust," the complaint states.

The defendants hadn't filed a response as of Tuesday afternoon, according to court records.


These Our the Days of Our LIves..... It seems families always get torn apart when something everyone wants gets left behind. Maybe that is why some folks sell all their assets and leave the money to charity. It sure saves everyone a lot of grief.

I have noticed a big change in how the caverns are managed since H.T.N Graves died. They used to have guided tours and turn the lights off behind the group. They kept people from touching the formations. Now, they try to get as many people through as possible, there is very little narration, the lights are on all the time and a green algae is starting to grow, people are touching all the formations with no supervision. Hopefully someone who cares about the caverns will take over as this family implodes from its greed.

Barbara - that's terrible to know. I was planning a trip for my kids there this summer, but if that's the case, I think maybe we'll go to one of the many other local caverns. That's sad.

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