Mass. high school latest to challenge Portsmouth woman’s estate

PORTSMOUTH — A Boston, Mass., law firm has filed an appearance to represent Braintree (Mass.) High School in a legal dispute over the last will and trust for the late Geraldine Webber, who left an estimated $1.8 million in assets to a Portsmouth police officer.

The law firm of Kopelman and Paige filed the appearance on behalf of Braintree High School, which, by terms of Webber’s 2009 will, was a $240,000 beneficiary. Webber’s will stated the high school would receive the money for the purpose of providing college scholarships in memory of her late son, Bruce, a 1960 graduate of Braintree High.

Webber’s will stated that a $1,200 scholarship would be awarded annually to a student chosen by the school administration until the funds were depleted. A subsequent will and trust, prepared for Webber by Hampton attorney Gary Holmes, names Braintree High as a $25,000 beneficiary.

That subsequent will and trust is now being challenged by multiple people and entities.

On Friday, City Attorney Robert Sullivan said he filed an appearance with the Rockingham County Superior Court for the city to be a party in the case. Sullivan said the “special appearance” means the city is “a party in interest to the probate court litigation,” while declining to elaborate.

In Webber’s 2009 will, the Portsmouth police and fire departments were each designated to receive one-fourth of her estate, after the sale of her riverfront home and personal items. In the will and trust Webber endorsed May 2, 2012, the police and fire departments were each named as $25,000 beneficiaries.

Several other parties are alleging that police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin exerted undue influence over Webber and that she was impaired by dementia when she signed her last will and trust.

Portsmouth attorney Paul McEachern represents multiple clients who were named as beneficiaries of Webber’s 2009 will, but were omitted from her last will and trust. Contesting the last will and trust on their behalf, McEachern alleges Webber had dementia and that attorney Gary Holmes treated Webber at the time she changed her estate plans “like she lacked capacity.”

Attorney David Eby of the Devine Millimet law firm is representing the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Shriners Hospitals for Children.

Eby alleges in court documents that Goodwin “knowingly took advantage” of Webber and left a photo of himself with his children — but not his wife — at her home to unduly influence her. The medical groups were beneficiaries of Webber’s prior will, each for one-fourth of her estate, then were named as $25,000 beneficiaries in the final trust.

Also challenging the estate is Webber’s mentally disabled grandson, who was named in Webber’s 2009 will as an heir, but was omitted from her last will and trust.

Webber died Dec. 11, 2012, at the age of 94. According to her death certificate, her primary cause of death was “inanition,” a medical term for malnutrition and/or starvation.

According to newly released state documents obtained by the Herald, four years before she signed the new will and trust, Webber was diagnosed with “moderate dementia.” A second medical opinion, dated a month after Webber signed the new will and trust, also described her as having dementia.

Also included in the state’s investigatory reports is one dated May 2, 2012 — a month before Webber signed the new estate plans — based on a visit by a state investigator. That investigator wrote that Webber said, “I’m leaving Aaron the house and the money” and “Aaron said, ‘Don’t tell people.’”

Holmes’ attorney, Ralph Holmes, said his client met with Webber “many times” and “throughout, she was clear and consistent about her wishes.” Ralph Holmes added he had “every confidence that the probate court will uphold the will and trust.”

Goodwin has repeatedly said, “The allegations that I exploited a member of our community are completely untrue.”

Portsmouth police officials said they conducted an investigation and determined Goodwin’s contact with Webber was largely off-duty and nothing criminal occurred.

Portsmouth attorney James Ritzo, who said he wrote several wills for Webber over the years, including the 2009 will, has asked the court to award him $65,000 from Webber’s estate for the quarter century he said he worked as her lawyer, but was not paid.

Attribution:

Mass. high school latest to challenge Portsmouth woman’s estate
Elizabeth Dinan
August 6, 2013
Seacoastonline.com
http://www.seacoastonline.com/articles/20130806-NEWS-308060384

Additional coverage:

Police capt. has ‘no interest’ in $25K from disputed estate
Elizabeth Dinan
August 6, 2013
Seacoastonline.com
http://www.seacoastonline.com/articles/20130806-NEWS-130809818

PORTSMOUTH — While a fellow officer is accused of unduly influencing an elderly woman to inherit most of her $1.8 million estate, police Capt. Michael Schwartz has filed a legal notice stating he has “no interest” in $25,000 left to him by the same woman in her last will and trust.

In a letter to the clerk of the Rockingham County Probate Court, written on Portsmouth Police Department letterhead, Schwartz said he does not want $25,000 left to him by the late Geraldine Webber.

“It is my contention that all of my contact with the deceased, and all of the interested parties, was in my capacity as a police officer of the City of Portsmouth,” he wrote. “If, at the end of the proceedings, the court does designate me a beneficiary, it is my intention to turn said proceeds over to the city of Portsmouth.”

Schwartz is currently out on family leave.

Webber died Dec. 11, 2012, and according to her death certificate, her primary cause of death was “inanition,” a medical term for malnutrition and/or starvation.

Schwartz is named as a $25,000 beneficiary of Webber’s last will and trust that is being contested at the county court. That will and trust names police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin as the beneficiary of Webber’s riverfront home, stocks, bonds and a Cadillac.

Portsmouth attorney Paul McEachern represents multiple clients who were named as beneficiaries of a will Webber signed in 2009 through attorney James Ritzo, but were omitted, or named as lessor heirs in a will and trust she signed in 2012. McEachern alleges Webber had dementia and that attorney Gary Holmes, who executed Webber’s 2012 estate plans and video recorded her signing them, treated Webber “like she lacked capacity.”

Attorney David Eby of the Devine Millimet law firm is representing the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Shriners Hospitals for Children. The medical groups were beneficiaries of Webber’s prior will, each for one-fourth of her estate, then were named as $25,000 beneficiaries in the final trust.

Eby alleges in court documents that Goodwin “knowingly took advantage” of Webber, who was 93 and “suffering from dementia,” to “effectively seek to transfer the vast majority of Ms. Webber’s significant assets” to himself. “This despite the fact that she had only recently met Aaron Goodwin prior to signing the estate planning document,” Eby alleges.

Also challenging the estate is Webber’s mentally disabled grandson, who was named in Webber’s 2009 will as an heir, but was omitted from her last will and trust.

The Boston law firm of Kopelman and Paige filed an appearance this week to represent Braintree (Mass.) High School in the legal dispute. The high school was named a $240,000 beneficiary of Webber’s 2009 will for the stated purpose of providing college scholarships in memory of Webber’s late son, Bruce.

The 2012 will and trust names Braintree High as a $25,000 beneficiary.

On Friday, City Attorney Robert Sullivan said he too filed an appearance with the court for the city to be a party in the case. Sullivan said the “special appearance” means the city is “a party in interest to the probate court litigation,” while declining to elaborate.

In Webber’s 2009 will, the Portsmouth police and fire departments were each designated to receive one-quarter of her estate, after the sale of her home and other assets. In the will and trust Webber endorsed May 2, 2012, the departments were each named as $25,000 beneficiaries.

According to newly released state documents obtained by the Herald, four years before she signed the 2012 will and trust, Webber was diagnosed with “moderate dementia.” A second medical opinion, dated a month after Webber signed the new will and trust, also described her as having dementia.

Also included in the state’s investigatory reports is one dated May 2, 2012 — a month before Webber signed the new estate plans and based on a visit by a state investigator. That investigator wrote that Webber said, “I’m leaving Aaron the house and the money” and “Aaron said, ‘Don’t tell people.’”

Holmes’ attorney, Ralph Holmes, said his client met with Webber “many times” and “throughout, she was clear and consistent about her wishes.” Ralph Holmes added he had “every confidence that the probate court will uphold the will and trust.”

Goodwin has repeatedly said, “The allegations that I exploited a member of our community are completely untrue.” Portsmouth police officials said they conducted an investigation and determined Goodwin’s contact with Webber was largely off-duty and nothing criminal occurred.

Ritzo, who said he wrote several wills for Webber over the years, including the 2009 will, has asked the court to award him $65,000 from Webber’s estate for the quarter century he said he worked as her lawyer, but was not paid.

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