Elder financial abuse cases go unnoticed far more often than they might ever reach the news, but the story of Geraldine Webber is proving an exception to that rule. Webber, who resided in Portsmouth, NH, and died at age 94 in late 2012, designated an unrelated police officer the main beneficiary of her $2.7 million estate.
As Sergeant Aaron Goodwin tells it, he "befriended" the senior citizen in the course of community policing duties and would subsequently visit her house hundreds of times in the last two years of her life. The elderly Webber, who had been diagnosed with dementia in 2010, changed her previous will just seven months before her death in Goodwin's favor. Indeed, it was Goodwin who facilitated this process, bringing Webber to several lawyers, all but one of whom refused because of the elderly woman's mental incapacity.
An attorney who agreed administered the change, transferring Webber's home and approximately $1 million in stocks and bonds to Goodwin upon her death. To those of us who deal regularly with issues of undue influence in trust and estate litigation here in California, the circumstances of the Webber case are already very suspicious. And now that deposition hearings have been made public, we can see even more questionable aspects emerging. According to Goodwin himself, he engaged in the following activities with Webber:
- Sorted Webber's mail.
- Helped Webber count thousands of dollars worth of cash hidden throughout the home.
- Took Webber on trips to cocktail bars and out-of-state casinos.
- Went with Webber to the bank to open her safe-deposit box, which contained stock certificates.
In addition to such "friendship," Goodwin ordered Webber's lawyer to collect the hidden stashes of money from the house after her death. Webber referred to Goodwin as "my love" (in a grandmotherly way, the police officer says) and regularly awarded him cash gifts.
Rather than recuse himself from a situation with a cognitively impaired senior citizen, Goodwin helped arrange Webber a new will, of which he was the primary beneficiary. While probate litigation is often a tough fight, the discovery process can often reveal hidden motivations in an estate contest, red flags indicating possible elder financial abuse:
During a March deposition, a Portsmouth bank executive said that during her 27-year banking career, she only once called state officials to report a possible case of financial exploitation. The person she thought might be "taking advantage of" an elderly and wealthy bank customer, she said, was Portsmouth police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin.