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Discovery in Estate Litigation: A Key Factor

When attorneys pursue an estate or trust case on behalf of their client, one of the key factors in the litigation process is discovery, whereby documents and other evidence are subject to exposure for their possible use in court. All kinds of records are useful - estate, medical, financial, and those of law enforcement.

When the attorneys at Hackard Law represent beneficiaries in probate court, for example, discovery is enormously helpful in proving their claims - that indeed another party was exercising undue influence upon a decedent or even engaging in elder abuse and financial exploitation. Once these documents come to light, it's a lot harder for the wrongdoer to claim innocence or ignorance, greatly increasing the chances that they'll stand accountable for their actions.

One particular case continues to draw our attention because of its extravagant characteristics. Portsmouth, NH, police officer Aaron Goodwin managed to inherit $2.7 million from the late Geraldine Webber. Webber, an elderly woman who died at age 94 in 2012, had been diagnosed with dementia two years prior. In 2010 Goodwin met his "friend" on a routine house call and would soon be taking her out to restaurants and casinos. Seven months before her death, Webber changed her will, disinheriting two local hospitals she had previously named as beneficiaries and designating Goodwin as inheritor to her $2.7 million estate. It was Goodwin, by the way, who facilitated this arrangement by "shopping around" for a lawyer - he went through several before he finally found one who would agree to administer the new document.

The attorney for the two hospitals originally supposed to inherit the estate, David Eby, is requesting that the Portsmouth Police Department disclose its internal investigation of Goodwin's relationship with Webber and his subsequent jackpot inheritance. The police, however, have refused, citing the privacy of public employee records. And that's why Eby is now asking for the records from the judge presiding over the matter.

What those documents might reveal could potentially show concrete instances of undue influence, which would call directly into question the validity of the second will. As in many instances, discovery might prove to be the lynchpin of the case.

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