Geraldine Webber’s waterfront home on Shaw Road in Portsmouth has been sold. That’s the latest development in what’s become known as the Goodwin-Webber case. Portsmouth Police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin stands to inherit the bulk of Webber’s $1.8 million estate, but some accuse him of convincing the woman, who died at the age of 93, to change her will in his favor.
The online auction of Webber’s home ended on Dec. 9. But the case has languished in court for two years and prompted city residents to demand the Police Commission conduct an independent investigation. A resolution is still at least four months away: earlier this fall, a trial initially scheduled for January 2015 was pushed back to late April.
The home is valued at about $804,000 according to Paul McInnis, Inc. the firm that held the auction, but the company would not say how much the property ultimately sold for or who bought it. Proceeds from the auction will be retained in Webber’s trust.
In May 2012, Webber revised her will and trust to leave the bulk of her estate to Goodwin. Since her death in 2012, Webber’s family and friends have claimed that Goodwin unduly influenced Webber to change her will.
Shortly after Webber’s death, potential beneficiaries of her estate filed a petition to set aside her trust and re-examine her will. They want the court to honor a 2009 estate plan under which organizations and individuals, including the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Shriner’s Hospital for Children, the Portsmouth Police Commission, and the Portsmouth Fire Commission stood to receive more money.
Many beneficiaries, including Brett W. Webber, Webber’s grandson and only living relative, believe Goodwin used his position as a police officer to convince Webber to leave him the bulk of her estate. They also argue that she did not have the testamentary capacity to execute the new estate plan. In 2010, Webber was diagnosed with dementia and was given a prescription for medication that she never filled.
A questionable relationship
Goodwin and Webber developed a friendship in 2010 after he responded to a call she made about a prowler at her home one afternoon. Friends argue in motions that Goodwin went on to develop a relationship with Webber that troubled them. According to court records, friends say Goodwin spent significant time with Webber, cut her off from her support system, and shopped around for attorneys until finding one willing to write up the new will.
Monthly payments she had sent to her grandson for years stopped coming. She started accusing friends and her long-time attorney Jim Ritzo of stealing from her, and reported often that she thought members of a “gang” were trying to burglarize her home.
Goodwin denies all of the claims. In an objection to the petition, Goodwin says he never tried to convince Webber to modify her estate plan and simply aided her in preventing Ritzo from maintaining control of her against her will. Webber claimed Ritzo was inappropriately interfering with her personal affairs, and the Attorney General’s office eventually issued Ritzo a no-contact order.
In her 2012 trust, Webber wrote, “It is my intent to recognize the great affection that I have for Aaron Goodwin and appreciation for his friendship and the care and attention that he has faithfully given me, which has enhanced my comfort and safety and helped me to live independently in my home.”
Goodwin and Webber’s relationship was investigated by multiple agencies before her death, including the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, the Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services, and the Portsmouth Police Department. However, none of the agencies found any evidence of wrongdoing.
Last July, a proposed settlement agreement was reached after mediation by some parties in the case. It fell through when the Portsmouth Police Commission voted 3-0 on Aug. 13 not to accept it. Webber’s grandson also objected to the settlement agreement.
Attorney Paul McEachern represents four people named as beneficiaries in Webber’s 2009 will. His clients opposed the settlement proposed in July because it would have “handsomely rewarded” Goodwin, who would have received $425,000.
“My clients believe the court has the ability to scrutinize his behavior as a public servant,” McEachern said.
In September, the commission appointed a team led by Judge Stephen H. Roberts to conduct an independent investigation of the Goodwin-Webber case, and in October, city residents called for the investigation to be expanded, according to meeting minutes. The commission’s investigation has no bearing on court proceedings, however, and there’s no clear timeframe for when it will conclude.
It remains to be seen how much of Webber’s estate will be left once litigation is over and who will receive the proceeds. Judge John Maher, the mediator for the case, told the Police Commission on Aug. 13 that the settlement agreement would have helped to “stop the bleeding” of the estate’s assets. Legal fees have already exceeded $500,000, with only five of 22 scheduled depositions for trial complete.