PORTSMOUTH — Police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin “knowingly took advantage” of an elderly resident with dementia, and left a photo of himself at her home, in an effort to inherit about $1.8 million from her estate, according to a pair of court motions filed by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Shriners Hospital for Children.
Through attorney David Eby, of the Devine Millimet law firm, the pair of medical organizations are asking a Superior Court judge to “set aside” the last will and trust signed by the late Geraldine Webber because, Eby alleges, Webber lacked the competency to endorse them and was under Goodwin’s undue influence.
The court motions allege Goodwin established a “confidential and fiduciary relationship” with Webber prior to her death on Dec. 11, 2012, at the age of 93. Webber was suffering from dementia when she executed a new will and trust transferring the “vast majority of Ms. Webber’s significant assets to Aaron Goodwin, a 34-year-old police officer” whom she had only recently met, according to the court filings.
Sloan-Kettering and Shriners Hospital for Children were beneficiaries of Webber’s previous will, which was signed in 2009. That will, prepared by Portsmouth attorney James Ritzo, stated Webber’s assets would be sold and, after her bills were paid, one-fourth of the money would be given to Sloan-Kettering of New York, one-fourth to the Shriners Hospital in Boston, Mass., and the other half split between the Portsmouth Police and Fire departments.
The new and disputed will and trust, prepared by Hampton attorney Gary Holmes, gives those parties $25,000 each, about 90 percent less.
Shriners Hospital and Sloan-Kettering allege Webber became “forgetful and paranoid” during her last years, “accusing with more and more frequency her various friends, her longtime attorney, and others, of theft and other wrongdoing.” She lost her driver’s license in 2010, was unable to locate items in her own home, and had “delusions” of a “gang” making attempts to burglarize her home, according to the court motions.
Webber met Goodwin when he responded to a call about a prowler and, within a matter of weeks, she told friends she loved Goodwin and wanted him to live with her, in spite of his being much younger, married and with children, Eby alleges. Webber had been prescribed a medication for dementia but never filled the prescription, the court motions state.
Meanwhile, Goodwin “took steps in an effort to convince Ms. Webber that he was a significant part of her life,” the motions allege. Prior to Webber signing her new estate documents, Goodwin took the elderly woman to dinner and for gambling at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut and “made sure she had a picture of himself and his children prominently displayed in Ms. Webber’s home,” which “conveniently did not include Officer Goodwin’s wife,” the motions allege.
At the same time, Webber began “shutting out others in her life,” and she “became more delusional and accusatory,” Eby wrote to the court. She asked for restraining orders against prior friends and ceased previous financial support to her disabled grandson, the motions allege.
“These conclusions were not based in fact and were nothing more than delusions,” Eby wrote. “Ultimately, she pushed away virtually all of her support system, her friends and her relatives,” and her “primary, if not sole, contact” in the months leading to her signing the new will and trust was Goodwin, the motions allege.
“She even at times expressed a romantic inclination toward Aaron Goodwin — this, despite an almost 60 year age differential, and despite the fact that she had just recently met him,” Eby alleges. “Officer Goodwin spent a significant amount of time at Ms. Webber’s residence during this time frame as well.”
After Ritzo refused to change Webber’s longtime will, Goodwin, “presumably knowing that Ms. Webber had expressed a desire to leave her sizable estate to him,” took Webber to as many as four different lawyers to try to change her will, but all of them declined, the motions allege.
Goodwin ultimately found Holmes to change Webber’s estate plans and on the date that she endorsed them, Webber was “disheveled, and came to the signing (in) her pajamas,” Eby wrote to the court. During the signing, Webber was also confused, had little to no understanding of her assets and “apparently forgot” to mention she had a grandson, Eby alleges in his motions to the court.
The new estate prepared by Holmes included Goodwin for the first time and, according to Eby’s court motions, the estimated benefit of that estate to him is $1.8 million. Portsmouth Police Capt. Mike Schwartz is also named in the new estate documents as a $25,000 beneficiary, according to court documents.
Webber’s cause of death is listed on her death certificate as lack of nourishment or starvation, Eby wrote to the court.
The court motions note that multiple other parties, including the Portsmouth Police and Fire departments, were named as beneficiaries in Webber’s 2009 will and trust, but they were not named in the subsequent one. If the court sets aside the new estate documents, as requested, those parties will be entitled to Webber’s earlier bequests, Eby wrote.
When asked for comment about the new court filings, Goodwin referred to a Sept. 20, 2012, statement he wrote, that says, “The allegations that I exploited a member of our community are completely untrue.” With that response, Goodwin attached letters from the state Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services, dated June 12 and Sept. 19, 2012, stating two investigations into complaints of elder exploitation by him regarding Webber were conducted and both were concluded as “unfounded.”
Before she died, Webber told the Portsmouth Herald during a 25-minute interview that she first met Goodwin when he responded to her home after she called police to report that “members of the nation’s gang” were on her property.
“You bet he is,” she said when asked whether Goodwin was a beneficiary of her will and trust. “It’s my money and my house and I’ll do as I (expletive) please.”
Six days after Webber died, Goodwin asked the probate court to remove him as co-executor of her estate, citing “conflict — potential litigation.”
Ritzo has asked the court to award him a $65,000 payment from Webber’s estate for the quarter century he said he worked as her lawyer, but was not paid.
Portsmouth attorney Paul McEachern is representing several of Webber’s former friends who were named in her 2009 will as beneficiaries but were cut from the 2012 estate plans.
Medical groups accuse Portsmouth cop of bilking elderly woman
Allege that Geraldine Webber lacked competency to endorse new will
June 5, 2013