Granny Snatching: Flawed Probate in New London?

January 26, 2011
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The sentencing of a funeral home director who used his position to loot the estates of dead people he was entrusted with preparing for burial made headlines this week, but a long-running probate dispute in New London that is newsworthy simply by virtue of its oddities has received minimal notice by comparison.

The funeral director was fined and sent to prison and his associate was also fined, and in that case at least the state’s probate system was responsible for investigating and reporting his crimes to the chief state’s attorney’s office.

However, if you ask Hartford Atty. Sally Roberts about the case of New London resident Robert N. Jetmore, and his dispute over the handling of his mother’s and sister’s wills in the city probate court, you’ll find that she strongly believes the probate system failed, and failed miserably.

Not only does Roberts believe the probate system did not perform when and how it should have, but complaints to a plethora of Connecticut officials from former Gov. Jodi Rell, to former Atty. General and now US Senator Richard Blumenthal, and former Sen. Chris Dodd to name just a few, fell on deaf ears.

Ron Winter

The case involves the estate of the late Mary Gennotti – Robert N. Jetmore’s sister. In that case, Jetmore maintains that his sister, who divorced her husband nearly two decades before her death on March, 27, 2009, was placed in her ex-husband’s custody when she could not possibly have understood what was happening around her, and supposedly remarried her ex-husband in a civil ceremony performed by a Justice of the Peace.

Among the many issues involved in the case is that the line on the marriage license requiring Mary Gennotti’s signature was signed with an X. Also her family has submitted evidence indicating that she was no longer competent or cognizant when this all occurred.

Mary Gennotti had executed a will at the time of her divorce, but a new will dated 2004 was submitted for probate after her death. The new will took everything away from her son and gave it to her ex-husband.

You actually can read about it at this website: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/Help-the-helpless/

The website stats in part:

Date: Feb. 24, 2009. Petitioner; The Crossings West, 89 Viets St., New London, Ct. 06320   (A nursing home) filed the following at the New London, Ct., probate court.

The condition of Mary A. Gennotti results in the respondent being unable to evaluate information or make or communicate decisions …

Also, the condition described above results in the respondent being unable to receive and evaluate information or make or communicate decisions to such an extent that the person is unable, even with appropriate assistance, to meet essential requirements for personal needs.

Also, regarding her subsequent marriage, the site states:

Probate judge, Mathew H. Green, allowed the ex-husband, Frank Gennotti, Sr. to marry Mary A. Gennotti, using her maiden name, on Feb. 27, 2009, by a justice of the peace, Shirley Pope Alloway, Frank’s friend for over forty years. … Mary could not sign her name, so an X was used. On March 16, 2009, Probate Judge Greene, appointed her ex-husband, Frank, conservator of Mary and of her estate. Mary died March 27, 2009, thirty days after the illegal marriage. Her death certificate listed the cause of death as Glioblastoma Neoplasia @ Temparallous, intervals for months and degenerative dementia for years. Three months prior to her death she was a patient at L & M Hospital and could not recognize close family member.

Robert Jetmore also disputes the handling of the case of his mother Josephine T. Jetmore. Mr. Jetmore has petitioned the Administrator of the Probate Court to remove Judge Green from the case, claiming “Judicial Malpractice.” In one document Jetmore states that an estate that totaled approximately $500,000 apparently including the value of the home involved, has been denied him and he is now living like a pauper, reduced to food stamps, and unable to make even rudimentary repairs to his home.

The two cases are far too involved to attempt to analyze them here. When a state newspaper columnist did an article on the Mary Gennotti case last year, before Atty. Roberts became involved, Mr. Jetmore left a lengthy comment at the end of the column containing some of the highlights.

But even a cursory review of the myriad letters, case files, depositions and other materials now in Atty. Roberts’ possession shows that a single column such as this can only scratch the surface. Nonetheless the purpose of this column is not to solve complex legal issues but to make the public aware that they exist.

The cases in New London are more than mere oddities. People who are or were involved in Connecticut’s probate courts say they reflect a broken system. In fact, while the consolidation of the Probate Courts now in effect may have saved some money on administrative costs, some who work in the system say the savings come at the expense of serving the public.

It seems that everyone in the state and federal governments is talking about cutting budgets and reducing spending, which they should. But some departments are vital to the well being of state citizens, and in those departments it would seem wise to evaluate their effectiveness before merely cutting money and moving people around.

The probate courts are a good example. Maybe 90 percent of the probate judges in the state are doing just what they should be doing and doing it well. But with the growing elderly population and the money they control, even a 10 percent level of incompetence or corruption is grossly excessive.

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