Suit to nullify will on capacity, undue influence grounds fails.


Byline: Barry Bridges

A Superior Court judge has concluded that an elderly testator had the requisite testamentary capacity to execute a will, even though a nurse expressed concern about the man's inability to answer "simple" medical questions during an evaluation within an hour of the document being signed.

Judge Susan E. McGuirl found that the nurse's testimony could not overcome the fact that Edwin Ogrodnik's attorney had taken care to assess his client's ability "to understand the nature and consequences of his actions" before witnessing the signature.

"It is Edwin's testamentary capacity at the time he signed his will that is relevant, not his alleged confusion over his medical condition after he had signed the will," McGuirl wrote.

Further, the judge rebuffed an allegation of undue influence put forth by the testator's son, John, who, while inheriting $140,000 from his father's bank account, received no assets through the will. He directed his suspicions at Edwin's longtime live-in companion, Metaxia Zarokostas, who was the named beneficiary.

"The court finds that John has failed to provide any direct or circumstantial evidence that would give rise to a permissible inference of undue influence," McGuirl said, indicating that such a claim could not be based on an opportunity to influence that was never actually asserted.

The 19-page decision is In re: Estate of Edwin Ogrodnik, Lawyers Weekly No. 61-081-19. The full text of the ruling can be found here.

Counsel for plaintiff John Ogrodnik was Nelson F. Brinckerhoff of North Kingstown, with Jean A. Boulanger of Coventry representing the executrix. Neither responded to requests for comment prior to press deadlines.

But weighing in on the ruling was Ralph M. Kinder of Providence, who represents clients in probate administration.

"The 'takeaways' for me were the judge's determination on the credibility of the various witnesses and her consideration of the non-probate funds that went to the son," Kinder said. "The latter may not have been a deciding factor in the decision, but it clearly made it easier to justify the complete omission of the son in the will."

Eleventh-hour bequest

Twenty years ago, 68-year-old Edwin Ogrodnik, a retired divorcee, struck up a friendship with Metaxia Zarokostas, who waitressed at a diner that he frequented. Zarokostas was Edwin's junior by 36 years.

At some point in 2005, Edwin offered Zarokostas and her two children room and board in exchange for companionship...

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