PORTSMOUTH — Eight lawyers met with a judge on Thursday to discuss a police officer’s disputed inheritance, agreed upon a January 2015 trial date, and discussed leasing a home that’s part of the contested estate.
The hearing was held in Rockingham County Superior Court and involves the estate of the late Geraldine Webber, of Portsmouth. Webber died Dec. 11, 2012, at age 93, leaving her riverfront home, stocks, bonds and a Cadillac to Portsmouth police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin.
Goodwin was named Webber’s primary beneficiary in a will and trust she endorsed seven months before her death. It’s being disputed by multiple parties who allege Webber lacked the metal capacity to endorse it and that Goodwin exerted undue influence over her.
The police sergeant denies the allegations.
During Thursday’s hearing, attorney Ralph Holmes said all involved parties had agreed to accommodate a year-long sabbatical he has planned. Due to that sabbatical, all of the attorneys agreed to a series of pre-trial deadlines and a January 2015 date to begin a trial expected to last up to two weeks.
Holmes is representing attorney Gary Holmes, who in 2012 drafted Webber’s disputed will and trust.
Also appearing during Thursday’s court hearing was Assistant Attorney General Anne Edwards, currently serving as interim head of the state Charitable Trust Division.
Portsmouth attorney James Ritzo, who drafted Webber’s prior will in 2009, told presiding Judge Mark Weaver that he has concerns about Webber’s home being left vacant while the case languishes for more than a year. Ritzo said the home needs to “be protected” and suggested a third party be hired to do so.
Attorney Paul McEachern, who represents four of Webber’s heirs who are challenging Goodwin’s inheritance, told the court he thinks Webber’s home should be leased.
Ralph Holmes told the court his client is the current executor of Webber’s estate, he said the taxes are being paid for the property and that the insurance is up-to-date. He also reminded that if anyone has concerns about his client’s fiduciary management of Webber’s estate, there are legal remedies.
Weaver advised that written legal motions should be filed with regard to a proposed lease of Webber’s home, or any related matters.
Also in attendance for Thursday’s hearing was Portsmouth City Attorney Robert Sullivan, who told the judge he’s representing the Portsmouth police and fire departments. By terms of Webber’s 2009 will, the departments were each designated to receive one-quarter of Webber’s estate, after the sale of her home and assets. In the will and trust Webber endorsed through Holmes in 2012, the departments are each named as $25,000 beneficiaries.
Attorney Chuck Doleac appeared on behalf of Goodwin, and Webber’s disabled grandson was represented at the hearing by attorney Lisa Bellanti. Webber’s grandson and only living heir was excluded from the 2012 will and trust.
Manchester attorney David Eby attended Thursday’s hearing on behalf of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Society and The Shriner’s Hospital for Children. His clients were each $500,000 beneficiaries under the 2009 will, then were named $80,000 beneficiaries under the 2012 estate plans.
Eby alleges Goodwin befriended Webber, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2010, before helping her visit “more than one attorney for the purpose of changing her estate plan.”
“The attorneys declined to draft a new estate plan,” Eby wrote in court motions. “The petitioners believe, and discovery will bear this out, that these attorneys refused to draft new estate planning documents because each had serious concerns about Ms. Webber’s capacity and/or that she was being unduly influenced to sign a new estate plan.”
McEachern has called the estate dispute “a matter of official corruption” and successfully argued for the case to be heard in public, over Ralph Holmes contrary request.
Through Doleac, Goodwin “denies any and all allegations of any wrongdoing concerning Geraldine Webber.” In court documents, Goodwin said he gave Webber a business card to contact Holmes, but that she conducted all further estate planning on her own.
Cop’s contested inheritance scheduled for 2015 trial
November 21, 2013