- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2016

HAYS, Kan. (AP) - A judge has ruled that a purported updated will from a Kansas multimillionaire was not valid, meaning most of the man’s $21 million estate will go to the Fort Hays State University Foundation rather than his former caretaker.

This week’s ruling by Kansas Senior Judge William Lyle Jr. settles a dispute that began when Wanda Oborny, the former caretaker for 98-year-old Earl Field, of Hays, said she found a letter shortly after Field died in 2013 that said he had decided to remove the foundation as his primary beneficiary and give most of his estate to Oborny, The Hutchinson News reported (https://bit.ly/1sOy4S1 ).

Field, a past president of the Fort Hays State University 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.

Oborny began working as caretaker and bookkeeper for Field in 2008. Lyle wrote that it was obvious Oborny became important to Field, who gave her more than $800,000 in gifts before his death.

The judge said he did not believe Oborny’s story about finding the second document, noting forensic document experts concluded that the new will was not typed on Field’s typewriter and other differences “lead this court to believe that Earl did not prepare these documents and his signatures thereon are not genuine.”

The foundation’s attorneys said in court records that 10 days before Field’s death, he assured then-school president Edward Hammond he had made no changes in this estate plans. But Oborny said she found a letter in Field’s office on the evening of his death that left half the estate to her, a quarter to Field’s attorney, Joseph Jeter, and a quarter to the foundation.

Jeter told Oborny the letter wasn’t a valid because it had no witness signatures. A few days later, Oborny’s friend, Steve Little, told Jeter that Field had asked him and his wife, Kathy, to witness the signing of a document that included the same asset split as 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.

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.

As the investigation into the dispute continued, the Littles died in a murder-suicide in August 2015. They were not named in any of the disputed documents.

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Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, https://www.hutchnews.com

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