Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
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Saturday, February 27, 2016
Son of late sheriff deputy Tom French wants estate administrator appointed for probate process
Posted: Monday, February 22, 2016 5:00 pm
Thomas French Jr. (L) Thomas French
The son of a retired Bucks County sheriff's deputy who is contesting his father's will wants the court to appoint a third party to oversee the estate after he said some of its assets have been sold.
Montgomery County attorney Karl Prior has filed a petition in Bucks County's Orphan's Court to appoint an administrator for the estate of Thomas J. French, formerly of Buckingham.
“This estate is a ship without a rudder right now," Prior said Friday. "There is no administrator. There is no executor. There is no one who has authority to act on (French’s) estate.”
Thomas J. French, 64, committed suicide in February 2015. He took his life two weeks after the Pennsylvania attorney general filed charges against him, his wife, Claire Risoldi, of Buckingham; her son and daughter-in-law, Carl A. and Sheila Risoldi, both of Buckingham; and her daughter, Carla V. Risoldi, of Solebury, for allegedly participating in a $20 million insurance fraud and related crimes involving fires at the family’s Buckingham estate, Clairemont. Claire Risoldi’s trial is scheduled for June, which will be followed by a second trial for the remaining defendants.
The dispute over French's will began after Claire Risoldi filed a petition with the Bucks County Orphan's Court asking it to accept what was identified as a photocopy of her late husband's will because she believes the will was destroyed in an October 2013 fire at their home.
Her petition states French gave her son photocopies of important documents, including his will. The photocopy, which Claire Risoldi submitted to the court, names her as his sole heir and executor and her son as the alternate executor. French's son, Thomas Jr., isn't mentioned in the will.
French Jr., the only child of Risoldi's late husband, filed a petition challenging the photocopied will, calling it "fraudulent and a forgery.”
An outside administrative court judge is assigned to hear the probate case after the Bucks County Orphan’s Court staff recused themselves, citing potential conflicts. Probate, the legal process to administer and distribute a dead person's estate under certain circumstances, has remained in a holding pattern following several court-approved continuances at Claire Risoldi's request.
Calkins Media was unsuccessful in reaching attorneys for Claire Risoldi and Carl A. Risoldi for comment Friday on the petition for an outside administrator.
Carl A. Risoldi and the late Thomas French jointly own a Morrisville home that has been put up for sale. Prior's petition also states other assets have been sold, including vehicles owned by Thomas French.
Under Pennsylvania law, only an executor has the authority to act on behalf of the estate of a deceased person, according to Lisa Gaier, an estate attorney with the Bucks County Bar Association’s Orphan’s Court section. An executor can be named in a will or, if a person dies without a will, a judge appoints one. Until the Orphan's Court accepts a will for probate, no one has the authority to sell estate assets, Gaier added.
If estate assets are improperly sold or liquidated, the court could order that the fair-market value of the items be reimbursed to the estate for distribution, Gaier said.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @JoCiavaglia