NIAGARA FALLS – An 80-year-old Niagara Falls man has been awarded the million-dollar estate of his first cousin in Niagara County Surrogate’s Court, wrapping up the case of a dead hoarder found under a pile of junk in his debris-crammed basement.
Last Wednesday’s ruling by Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas means that Richard J. Wroblewski received $928,000.
That’s what was left after the final payment of legal and other fees, including $100,000 to his attorney, Michael A. Gold, under the terms of a retainer agreement he made with Wroblewski.
Richard Wroblewski was ruled to be the sole heir of Theodore Wroblewski, whose body was found in 2011.
He inherited the money from his mother, Anna, who died Aug. 9, 2009, at age 97. Anna Wroblewski, who piled up about $1.2 million in a Merrill Lynch mutual fund account, lived with Theodore in a small house on Grand Avenue in Niagara Falls until she entered a nursing home in 2008.
Gold told The Buffalo News earlier this year that Richard had no personal relationship with his cousin.
Theodore would have been 79 in early 2011, and no one knows for sure when Theodore Wroblewski died.
The date on his death certificate is March 31, 2011, the day his body – “mummified,” according to a coroner’s report – was located in the basement by Howard Baney, a relative who had reported Theodore as a missing person Feb. 12, 2009.
“Howard was a cousin. He brought food, money at times, transportation,” his attorney, David G. Boniello, told The Buffalo News earlier this year. He said a judge had declared Baney to be Anna’s guardian. Boniello speculated that Theodore Wroblewski was cooking in the basement when a pile of junk fell on him and trapped him.
The house was full of items ranging from stacks of magazines to canned goods and many other odds and ends gleaned from garbage-picking. There even was a small fleet of rusty shopping carts in the backyard.
In the eyes of the law, since no one knows for sure when Theodore died, he is presumed to have died after his mother. That means that his closest living relative is the heir to the fortune.
With help from Polish officials, estate attorney Stanley Collesano conducted an extensive search in archives in Poland, where Anna was born. He followed more than three dozen leads from Theodore Wroblewski’s family tree, finding no blood relative closer than Richard Wroblewski.
There was another first cousin, Irene Skurski of Ransomville, who for a time served as executor of the estate, but she died in April 2012.
The Surrogate’s Court staff received an email in late 2013 from a woman in Poland, wondering if she might have a claim, but it turned out to be another dead end.
Richard Wroblewski didn’t go to the County Courthouse in Lockport on Wednesday to hear the final ruling. Gold said his client suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and doesn’t get out much.
“Richard was a man of means,” Gold said. “He has the money planned for his family.” Richard had no children of his own, but Gold said, “He wants to take care of his niece and three nephews.”