April 18, 2014

Mostly clear

Grafton man contests late woman’s will

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — An attorney for a Grafton man is contesting the will of a North Ridgeville woman, saying it was changed to benefit a woman who works for the city’s senior center and exerted undue influence on his client.

Lakewood attorney Dieter Domanovic filed paperwork before Lorain County Probate Judge James T. Walther last month to have the will of the late Margaret K. Stowoff ruled invalid.

In the complaint, he contends Kitty Wawszkiewicz, who works as a case manager for the senior center, convinced Stowoff, who died at age 96 in July 2012, to change her will in April 2012 to make Wawszkiewicz executor of her estate.

Wawszkiewicz resigned as executor to Stowoff’s estate Nov. 21, a little over a month after the revised will was entered into probate Oct. 10, Domanovic said.

“I didn’t know she had removed herself as executor, but that doesn’t change the fact that the will should still be found to be invalid,” Domanovic said.

Toni Morgan, assistant law director for the city, confirmed that Wawszkiewicz withdrew as executor of Stowoff’s estate after she reconsidered the matter, but declined further comment.

Morgan and Domanovic agreed the city has no liability in the case.

Domanovic contends Wawszkiewicz “used her position to become executor of Margaret’s estate, which names no beneficiaries and designates no specific purposes” for funds in the woman’s estate.

“If there are no named beneficiaries and no named purposes, the will is invalid,” Domanovic said.

Stowoff attended programs and activities at the North Ridgeville Senior Center, where she befriended Wawszkiewicz and began sharing confidential information with her, according to court documents.

The 2010 will was changed during a time when Stowoff was suffering from dementia and other health issues that left her with a diminished mental capacity and unable to handle her own financial affairs, Domanovic said.

“If not for her position, she wouldn’t have the same influence,’’ Domanovic said. “She wouldn’t even have known Margaret.”

The altered will naming Wawszkiewicz as executor was derived from one made in early 2010 which named Larry H. Kenyon of Grafton, a friend of Stowoff, as a beneficiary, along with two relatives in Missouri, a couple of local friends, and three animal shelters.

Domanovic filed the challenge to the altered will on behalf of the original beneficiaries.

The original document bequeathed $5,000 to relatives and friends, while Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary Inc. in Ravenna was to receive $10,000. Erie Shores Humane Society in Elyria was to get $500, and Ziggy’s Friends Animal Rescue in Grafton $1,000.

Kenyon, who had known Stowoff for several years, was originally designated to receive the remainder of Stowoff’s estate after any outstanding debts, taxes, etc. were taken care of. Domanovic estimated the sum at $20,000 to $30,000.

“By the time everything is done, there could be less money,” Domanovic said.

“He would take her to the doctor, grocery shopping, the senior center and other places,” Domanovic said. “They knew each other quite well.”

The relationship between Kenyon and Stowoff reportedly upset Wawszkiewicz to such an extent that she once had North Ridgeville police question him during a visit with Stowoff at a local nursing home, according to court documents.

Stowoff was pre-deceased by one child and a former husband.

Senior Center Director Rita Price referred comment to city officials.

A message seeking comment was left with a relative of Wawszkiewicz, who did not respond.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.