|Tom French Jr. (L) Tom French|
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Estate administrator appointed in contested will case involving Risoldi family
Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2016
A former longtime Bucks County administrator has been appointed to oversee the estate of a late Bucks County sheriff's deputy after allegations were raised that assets had been, or were being, improperly sold.
As the estate administrator, Douglas R. Praul, who retired last month as county court administrator, will examine and inventory assets of the late Thomas J. French, 64, formerly of Buckingham, who died in February 2015, and determine which items belong to the estate and to safeguard those assets.
French's only child, Thomas French Jr., sought a third-party administrator after alleging his father's widow, Claire Risoldi, 68, of Buckingham, sold one vehicle that belonged to his father and listed his father's Morrisville house for sale without his knowledge, according to court documents.
"It was the correct decision," French's attorney, Karl Prior, said Wednesday. "We sought an independent administrator because we were concerned that ... assets would disappear."
This news organization was unsuccessful in reaching attorneys for Claire Risoldi and Carl A. Risoldi, who is named as alternative executor in the will, for comment Wednesday.
Claire Risoldi, though, contends that her late husband's estate is insolvent and owes money to her and her son for debts that include $10,000 in bail money, $230,000 French borrowed from Carl Risoldi to buy Claire's engagement ring and bills related to the maintenance of the Morrisville home and French's funeral, according to documents filed with the Bucks County Register of Wills.
Risoldi and French Jr. have been battling over the estate since 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 original will was destroyed in an October 2013 fire at their home. The photocopy names Claire Risoldi as the elder French's sole heir and executor and her son, Carl A. Risoldi, as the alternate executor. Carl A. Risoldi also is listed as co-owner of French's Morrisville home.
French Jr., who isn't mentioned in the photocopied will, has challenged its validity, calling it "fraudulent and a forgery."
Judge John Baxton appointed Praul as the estate's administrator on May 2, according to documents filed with the Register of Wills. Braxton, a Philadelphia administrative court judge, was assigned to hear the probate case after the Bucks County Orphan’s Court staff recused themselves, citing potential conflicts.
Until the Orphan's Court accepts a will for probate — a legal process to administer and distribute a dead person's estate — no one has the authority to sell estate assets.
If Praul determines that estate assets were improperly sold or liquidated, the court could order that the fair-market value of the items be reimbursed to the estate for distribution.
French died by suicide two weeks after the Pennsylvania attorney general filed criminal charges against him, Claire Risoldi, Carl A. and his wife, Sheila Risoldi, and Risoldi's 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 later this year, to be followed by a second trial for the remaining defendants.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @JoCiavaglia