PORTSMOUTH — While an elderly woman endorsed a new will and trust last May, leaving the bulk of her sizeable estate to a city police officer, she accused her former lawyer of stealing from her.
The woman, Geraldine Webber, died Dec. 11, 2012, at age 94, seven months after she was videotaped for an hour and 20 minutes signing a new trust giving police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin her waterfront home, stocks, a bond and a Cadillac. The will and trust are being contested by Portsmouth attorney Jim Ritzo, who says he managed Webber’s estate for the previous 25 years, that her wishes remained consistent and they did not include Goodwin.
Ritzo alleges in the county probate court that Goodwin exerted undue influence over Webber and that she was incompetent when she agreed to give the police sergeant power of attorney over her estate, as well authority to make her life-and-death medical decisions. Evidence in the case is expected to include the video of Webber signing her new estate documents on May 2, 2012, when she called Goodwin her “second son,” made sexual advances toward her new lawyer, Gary Holmes, and alleged her old lawyer, Ritzo, stole checks and money from her.
Ritzo denied the allegations Monday, saying he’s “never taken a dime” from Webber, including for the quarter-century he managed her estate.
“It’s a classic sign of Alzheimer’s (disease) to say people are stealing from you,” said Ritzo, who had petitioned the probate court to have Webber evaluated for competency prior to her death. “I think it’s very simple, just let the judge watch the video and decide.”
The video recorded the elderly woman using salty language, and making multiple sexual remarks and gestures toward Holmes and about Goodwin, while Holmes and three female witnesses were at Webber’s home for the estate work. It speaks to her competency, Ritzo said, adding that no one from the local police department ever contacted him about Webber’s allegations that he stole from her.
He said Webber asked him to change her will to “give everything to Aaron” and the allegations surfaced after he refused.
Ritzo said he heard that local police assisted Webber with making a state complaint against him, said he never saw the complaint, and when he later called the state’s elder affairs office to ask what was going on, he was told the allegations were deemed “unfounded.”
Ritzo has not been charged with any crime.
Asked how city police responded to Webber’s theft allegations, Deputy Police Chief Corey MacDonald provided the Portsmouth Herald with the following written statement Monday:
“Ms. Webber did make allegations of a criminal nature and did request an investigation into allegations that she was financially being taken advantage of by a local attorney,” MacDonald wrote. “Those allegations were forwarded to outside agencies to include elder affairs for investigation. The Portsmouth police did not conduct that investigation, however Capt. Michael Schwartz was assigned by the department to facilitate those referrals at Ms. Webber’s request.”
Schwartz is named as a $25,000 beneficiary in Webber’s current will and trust.
Any comment regarding the outcome, McDonald said, “would have to come from the Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services.” No one from that office could be reached for comment Monday.
Holmes has consistently declined to comment about the allegations, while Goodwin has denied wrongdoing. Goodwin previously provided the Herald with letters from the state Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services, dated June 12 and Sept. 19, stating that two investigations into reports of elder exploitation by him regarding Webber were conducted and both were concluded as unfounded. Portsmouth police officials said they also conducted separate investigations and determined Goodwin’s contact with Webber was largely off-duty and that nothing criminal had occurred.
On Dec. 17, Goodwin asked the probate court to remove him as co-executor of Webber’s estate, citing “conflict — potential litigation.”
Before Webber’s trust was amended last spring, the terms of her prior will, written by Ritzo in 2009, bequeathed $240,000 to Braintree (Mass.) High School for a scholarship in memory of Webber’s late son, Bruce. The new trust leaves the high school $25,000.
The will Ritzo wrote for Webber also stated her assets would be sold and, after her bills were paid, one-fourth of the money would be given to the Sloan Kettering Cancer Research Clinic in New York, one-fourth given to the Shriners Hospital for Children-Boston, and the other half split between the Portsmouth police and fire departments.
The new and disputed trust gives those parties $25,000 each, about 90 percent less.
Ritzo said he believes Webber’s stocks and bonds are worth $700,000 and her home, which features boat docks and an in-ground swimming pool, is assessed for $805,000.
Ritzo has filed a $65,000 claim against Webber’s estate for the 25 years he represented her without payment. If the will he wrote is found by a judge to remain valid, he is entitled to 5 percent of her total estate, per agreement with Webber, he said.
Ritzo alleges in filings with the probate court that before Holmes took the case, Goodwin shopped Webber’s will to “at least” four attorneys, asking them to change the will “so he would inherit the ‘entire estate.’”
Before her death, Webber told the Herald 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,” she said. “And I’ll do as I please.”
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