NIAGARA FALLS – The first cousin of Theodore Wroblewski, a Niagara Falls man who lived a solitary life in a garbage-strewn house before dying in his basement, appears to be about to collect an estate of more than $1 million.
Richard Wroblewski, an 80-year-old Niagara Falls man, turns out to be the nearest living relative of Theodore, who died in 2011.
The estate hasn’t been closed yet by Niagara County Surrogate’s Court, however, because a woman from Poland sent the court clerk an email last month wondering if she might not be related to Theodore Wroblewski.
Court Clerk Michael Veruto said he asked Richard Wroblewski’s attorney, Michael A. Gold, to reply to the Polish woman’s email.
Gold promptly did so, asking the woman to supply the names of her parents and grandparents. As of last week, the woman had not replied.
Gold said, “I doubt she’s of the same level of consanguinity as Richard.” That’s a 10-dollar word meaning that Gold thinks Richard is the closest blood relative of Theodore Wroblewski.
Richard Wroblewski, who declined to be interviewed, had “no relationship” with Theodore, Gold said.
The money in the estate actually was piled up by Theodore’s mother, Anna Wroblewski.
When she died Aug. 9, 2009, at age 97, the estate’s estimated value was $2 million, and no one knew where Theodore was, according to court papers filed at that time. The value of the estate later was set at $1.2 million, almost all of it from Anna’s old Merrill Lynch mutual fund account.
Howard Baney, of Niagara Falls, the husband of Anna’s first cousin, Estelle Baney, got the Surrogate’s Court to declare him the administrator of Anna’s estate in March 2010.
He had been cleaning out the house, which was crammed with debris.
There matters stood until Theodore’s body was found under a pile of debris in the basement of his home on Grand Avenue, Niagara Falls, on March 31, 2011.
Theodore, who would have been 79 by that time, had been reported as a missing person on Feb. 12, 2009. He had shared the home with his mother until Anna entered a nursing home in 2008.
Baney made funeral arrangements, including the cremation of what a coroner’s report called Theodore’s “mummified” body, but didn’t inform anyone of the death and told a local funeral home not to publish a death notice, according to a story in The Buffalo News in August 2011.
Neighbors told The News that the Wroblewskis picked garbage and crammed it into their tiny house. The hoard ranged from stacks of magazines and canned goods to empty boxes and a collection of rusty shopping carts in the backyard.
No one knows when Theodore Wroblewski died; the date on the death certificate is the date the corpse was found, March 31, 2011.
With no one able to prove when he died, the date of the discovery of the body is being used as the date of death. Thus, in the eyes of the law, it means that Theodore is considered to have been alive when his mother Anna died.
That meant Baney was out of luck in terms of collecting the money, $1.2 million of which derived from a Merrill Lynch mutual fund account, and the estate reverted to Theodore, or rather to his heirs.
The question then became, who was Theodore’s closest living relative?
The News tracked down the Westlunds, a family in Florida who were first cousins once removed, but their position as leading heirs was short-lived.
Richard Wroblewski and Irene Skurski, of Ransomville, another first cousin of Theodore Wroblewski, came forward in October 2011, less than a month after the Westlunds filed their claim.
Skurski was named executor of the estate, but she died in April 2012. That left Richard Wroblewski as the sole heir.
Baney sent in a bill for $39,550 as commission for his time administering the estate, plus $6,932 in expenses.
Baney’s attorney, David G. Boniello, submitted a legal bill of $37,431.
Brown & Co., a Niagara Falls accounting firm, billed $3,775 for preparing an estate tax return. Niagara Monument Co. billed $3,098 for a headstone for Anna and Theodore, and Oakwood Cemetery in the Falls charged $450 for the burial.
Meanwhile, the rest of the estate was earning interest, reaching a total value of $1,028,717.86.
Gold had made an agreement with Richard Wroblewski under which the attorney would be paid 10 percent of whatever Richard collected, with a limit of $100,000, if Gold could prove he was entitled to the estate.
Gold did that and has applied to the court for the $100,000.
“I think we did a good job for him, don’t you?” Gold asked.
A $2,500 filing fee is to be collected by the court, and if Gold’s legal fee is approved by County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III, Richard Wroblewski is to end up with $926,717.86, from Anna Wroblewski’s mutual fund account, passed through her son, Theodore.
“He and his mother never enjoyed their money. They hoarded it. It’s a sad story,” Gold said.