PORTSMOUTH — A local lawyer is asking a judge to determine whether a now-deceased elderly woman was of sound mind and free from undue influence when she endorsed a new will and trust last spring, naming a police detective as co-executor of her estate.
The woman, Geraldine Webber, died Dec. 11 at the age of 94. According to her death certificate, Webber’s primary cause of death was “inanition,” a medical term for malnutrition and starvation.
Attorney James Ritzo has alleged in probate court motions that Portsmouth police detective Aaron Goodwin exercised undue influence over Webber to inherit her estate. Probate court records dated Dec. 17 state Goodwin has asked the court to remove himself as co-executor of Webber’s estate citing “conflict — potential litigation.”
Ritzo said Wednesday that he filed an objection to Webber’s will and trust that were filed with the probate court last June and named Goodwin and Hampton attorney Gary Holmes as co-executors. He said he’s asked the court to examine the circumstances surrounding Webber’s endorsement of the new documents related to her estate which he valued at $1.6 million.
Ritzo said before the new will and trust were filed last June, he was Webber’s estate attorney for a quarter-century. He claims “several people” intend to contest the new will and trust.
Holmes did not immediately return a message seeking his comment Wednesday and he has consistently declined to comment about the allegations.
Before Webber’s death, Ritzo filed paperwork with the probate court alleging Goodwin met the elderly woman in November 2010, when she called police about a prowler. Two weeks later, Ritzo alleges, Webber asked him to change her will so she could “leave her entire estate to detective Aaron Goodwin.”
Ritzo said he refused to change the will due to Webber’s “mental state,” which he described as dementia. He further alleges in court filings that Goodwin shopped Webber’s will around to “at least” four attorneys, asking them to change the will “so he would inherit the ‘entire estate,’ and discussed plans for renovating (her) house when he received it.”
He also told the court Goodwin took the elderly woman to casinos, out for drinks and to restaurants, and monitored her phone calls and bank accounts. Before her death, Webber told Seacoast Media Group that Goodwin, 33, had taken her to casinos and she described him as “the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“It’s my money and my house, and I’ll do as I please,” she said.
Ritzo said Webber’s estate was worth $1.6 million when he wrote her will in 2009 and included her riverfront house, stocks, bonds, bank accounts and valuable jewelry. According to that will, her property was to be sold and the cash divided to beneficiaries including the Portsmouth Police and Fire departments, the Sloan Kettering Cancer Research Clinic in New York and the Shriners Burn Center in Boston.
Ritzo said the will he filed for Webber remains valid if a probate judge determines she was unduly influenced or mentally diminished when she signed the new will in June. According to Ritzo, a Cadillac and a municipal bond, worth a combined $380,000, now comprise the entire new will, while the rest is in a blind trust.
Holmes filed with the probate court seeking authority to hire Reid Bunker of Brentwood to inventory and appraise Webber’s estate.
Goodwin has denied any wrongdoing and provided SMG with letters from the state Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services dated June 12 and Sept. 19, which say investigations into reports of elder exploitation were conducted and deemed unfounded. Similarly, Portsmouth police officials said they conducted investigations and determined Goodwin’s contact with Webber was largely off-duty and nothing criminal had occurred.
Ritzo has also filed a $65,000 claim against the estate for the 25 years he represented Webber without payment. If the will he wrote is found by a judge to remain valid, he will instead be paid an amount equal to 5 percent of her estate.
Lawyer objects to deceased woman’s will, cites police officer’s influence
January 2, 2013