In 2010, Randy Driscoll’s will provided his wife Cindy Driscoll with real property and 2.4 million dollars in estate assets. Randy’s will also conveyed a six generation family farm to his nephews.
Randy passed away in 2015. Cindy however became horrified after his estate planning attorney, Gerald Neil, produced a revised will and trust in probate that decimated Cindy’s inheritance and excluded the nephews’ future interests in the family farm.
Randy’s altered testamentary documents executed in 2015 left most of his five million dollar estate to the Sacred Heart Foundation, a nonprofit member of the Sacred Heart Church in East Grand Forks, Minnesota.
Cindy says she never heard of the Foundation and that Mr. Neil sits on the board of directors at Sacred Heart Church.
Altered Will Reduces Spouse’s Inheritance by 88%
According to court records, instead of receiving the $2.4 million bequeathed from Randy’s 2010 will, his 2015 modified testamentary documents endowed Cindy with firearms, gardening equipment, life use of certain family real property, a five-thousand dollar yearly allowance for vacations, full healthcare benefits for life, and a $54,000 yearly income until her death, totaling only $300,000 in value.
Widow Sues Husband’s Estate Planner for Legal Malpractice
This week, Cindy retained legal malpractice attorney, Patrick O’Neil, to begin fiduciary litigation against her husband’s former lawyer to hold him personally liable for hijacking her family’s inheritance.
During an interview with the Grand Forks Herald, O’Neil referred to himself as a “self-policing” attorney, affirming other lawyers need to hold estate planning fiduciaries liable for their intentional wrongdoings.
“I have been doing this for 25 years… and I would say this [lawsuit] is one of the most egregious cases I’ve seen,” O’Neil claimed.
Cindy told reporters that Neil never allowed her or Bruce Driscoll, the deceased’s brother and appointed personal representative in Randy’s 2010 will, to examine the altered testamentary documents. She further said her husband would have never cut his family out of his will.
Bruce located Randy’s 2010 last will and testament while searching through his rolltop desk after he passed away, and it was the only estate planning document that Bruce found, according to O’Neil.
Bruce was also the first to learn about the changes in Randy’s 2010 will after meeting with his brother’s attorney shortly after Randy’s death.
According to Bruce, the news was absurd, and he recalled asking Neil “is there’s nothing I can do to fix this?” Neil quickly replied, “There’s nothing you can do about it.”
“This is incorrect legal advice,” O’Neil told Herald reporters, “processes [exist] to contest wills.”
Cindy’s lawsuit further asserts Neil breached his fiduciary duty owed to Randy after tricking his client into leaving everything to a foundation that he managed.
Public Record shows Neil incorporated the Sacred Heart Foundation and registered the entity as a nonprofit organization in 2014, one year before Randy allegedly altered his will. Neil is also an agent of the Foundation and a founding member of the organization, according to the lawsuit.
As of this week, neither Neil nor the Foundation’s Board has commented on Cindy’s allegations.
Fiduciary Allegedly Forges Will on His Client’s Deathbed
Court documents affirm Neil drafted Randy’s 2010 will soon after doctors diagnosed him with leukemia.
Randy’s cancer got worse from 2010 until his death in 2015, says Cindy, who insisted her husband was on more than sixty chemotherapy medications during this time, “making him incapacitated to make changes to his will and trust.”
According to O’Neil, shortly before Randy’s death in 2015, Neil redrafted Randy’s will and trust without his client’s permission and deceived both Randy and his wife into executing the forged testamentary documents.
Cindy affirmed, telling Herald reporters that Neil “allowed him [Randy] to execute documents while he was not lucid,” and claimed the defendant asked her to sign the forged will “without telling her what they [the documents] were.”
The widow thought she was waving her husband’s estate tax returns, and Neil never gave Cindy the opportunity to read what she was signing, according to the Herald.
Cindy also recalled Neil telling her in the hospital that she would never need anything after Randy passes away. “And now, all of a sudden, I have nothing,” the plaintiff claimed.
O’Neil added that his client “consented to her own disinheritance,” when singing the modified will and trust, “an act that a reasonable person would never consciously do.”
Widow Contends Attorney Pretended to Represent Her Interests
Cindy’s complaint reads, one month before Randy died, Neil presented her with a consent and waiver form and asked the plaintiff to endorse it while Randy laid dying in the hospital.
Neil never told Cindy he only represented Randy’s interests, nor did Neil let Cindy seek legal representation and advice before asking her to sign Randy’s new estate planning documents, says O’Neil.
Cindy claims she believed Neil represented both her and Randy when the lawyer approached her—she asked the defendant if she SHOULD sign the documents, and Neil replied, “Yes, she should,” according to the lawsuit.
Despite no fiduciary relationship existing between Cindy and Neil, “under Neil’s legal advice, Cindy signed a document that finalized her disinheritance,” O’Neil told the Herald.
Plaintiff Files Second Lawsuit to Win Back Hijacked Inheritance
Three years ago, Cindy entered will dispute litigation proceedings to set aside Randy’s revised will of 2015, and she ended up settling with the Sacred Heart Foundation for $1.5 million.
This week’s lawsuit against Neil seeks the remaining $900,000 in assets that Cindy did not receive in the settlement but would have received from Randy’s 2010 will.
The courts may hear Cindy’s tortious interference with an expected inheritance complaint because she exhausted all attempts to remedy the damages to her estate during probate proceedings in 2017.
Spouse Wants Others to Learn From Her Traumatic Experience
Cindy told the Herald that she hopes her story can save other beneficiaries from being taken advantage of by corrupt fiduciaries.
She wants all heirs to be careful, the Herald wrote, and not to depend on everybody when they’re dealing with the stress of taking care of a terminally ill loved one.
Cindy also insisted, “Never sign anything when you’re not in your right mind and you don’t have an attorney by your side.”
She trusted a man that she believed was working in both her and Randy’s best interests, the Herald wrote, but as it turns out, this particular fiduciary may have just been doing what was best for him.