Braintree officials say they will not get involved in an ongoing dispute over a Portsmith, N.H., woman’s estate that leaves money to the South Shore town.
Several parties have hopped on board with a lawsuit, which alleges that a New Hampshire police officer exerted undue influence over the elderly Geraldine Webber, persuading her to sign over most of her assets to him shortly before her death last December.
According to Peter Morin, Braintree's chief of operations and staff, Braintree stood to receive nearly $250,000 under the old will. Under the changed will, Braintree will receive $25,000. Both wills specify that a sum of money be allocated on an annual basis for a scholarship.
A suit has been filed in Rockingham Probate Court by attorney James Ritzo, who managed Webber’s estate for years prior to the change. Ritzo said he has filed the case as a creditor, and not as a beneficiary.
“She had dementia. She did not have capacity to make the will, there was undue influence on the part of Aaron Goodwin, and a lot of people that deserve to get the requests are not going to get it because its all going to Aaron,” Ritzo said in a phone interview. “There are 12 lawyers involved and they are all trying to decide if the trust or will will stand and if the will from 2009 is a valid will.”
While Braintree’s attorney has filed an appearance in court, and will monitor the ongoing dispute, Braintree officials said their involvement won’t go much further.
“We stand to benefit in either case,” said Morin. “The arguments that are being made by other parties that are involved now are the arguments that Braintree would make. Our interests are being represented without us having to do anything.”
Morin said that he believed Webber lived in Braintree at one point in time. According to an article on www.seacoastonline.com, Webber’s late son attended Braintree High School and the scholarship fund would be in memory of him.
Morin said the town initially discovered the change in will and lawsuit several months ago, when attorneys from New Hampshire started contacting town officials asking to represent them in the case.
“Part of the reason we didn’t was because their bills would diminish whatever we would inherit,” Morin said. “We can protect our interests simply by filing an appearance on our behalf, monitor what’s filed, and at this stage, the arguments being made represent Braintree’s interests as well as if we made them ourselves, and we’re not incurring the cost.”
Ritzo said the lawsuit was just beginning. Appearances were due in court this week. The court next will decide discovery and schedule other depositions.
“I think it’s pretty clear if you watch the video of the signing of the documents she didn’t really know what she was doing. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out,” he said.
To read more on the dispute, click here.