HAYS, Kan. (AP) — A legal fight is brewing over the $20.6 million estate of a western Kansas man whose will was changed shortly before his February 2013 death.
At issue is a letter typed on 98-year-old Earl O. Field’s stationary, The Hutchinson News reported.
The codicil said the Hays man had changed his mind, stripping the Fort Hays State University Foundation as the primary beneficiary and instead giving the largest portion of his estate to his part-time bookkeeper and caretaker, Wanda Oborny, describing her as “like my daughter.” But the foundation considers the document a fake, and the couple who said they witnessed its signing later died in a homicide-suicide.
Field, who once served as president of the FHSU Alumni Association, owned farmland and mineral rights, as well as a land abstract and title business and extensive investments. He and his wife, Winona, who died in October 2009, had no children and planned to give most of their fortune to the foundation.
The foundation’s attorneys said in court records that ten days before Field’s Feb. 19, 2013, death, he “summoned” then-school president Edward Hammond “to visit him in the nursing home.” Hammond was assured nothing had changed in the estate plan.
Oborny said she found a letter in a drawer in Field’s office on the evening of his death. The letter, dated Jan. 23, 2013, left half the estate to her, a quarter to Field’s attorney, Joseph Jeter, and a quarter to the foundation.
Jeter told Oborny it wasn’t a valid because it lacked witness signatures. A few days later, Oborny’s friend Steve Little called Jeter and told him Field had asked Little and his wife, Kathy, to witness the signing of a document. It described the same asset split described in the letter that lacked signatures. In their depositions, the Littles said Field signed the paper, which was dated Jan. 22, 2013, in front of them and they signed it as witnesses.
Field said he wanted it to be a surprise for Oborny and swore them to secrecy, according to Steve Little’s deposition.
Oborny, who began working for Field in early 2008, was a “trusted caretaker and employee,” her attorney said in a case document.
But the foundation’s legal team said the organization’s share of the estate was “drastically” reduced in the document that added Oborny and Jeter, neither of whom had previously been beneficiaries.
The coroner’s reports into the Littles’ August death stated the couple had been contacted by the FBI about a grand jury hearing, but Jim Cross, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas, said he couldn’t provide any information about a federal grand jury.
The attorneys for Oborny and the Littles didn’t immediately return phone messages from The Associated Press seeking comment. Foundation attorney John Terry Moore said he couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
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