Troubleshooters: The battle over a father's estate

ByHeather Grubola WPVI logo
Thursday, May 23, 2019
Action News Troubleshooters: The battle over a father's estate
Action News Troubleshooters: The battle over a father's estate. Nydia Han has more on Action News at 11 p.m. on May 22, 2019.

The Action News Troubleshooters took on a dramatic story that involved insurance fraud, a tragic death and a son now in a battle for his father's estate. It's a cautionary tale that serves as a warning for everyone.

Tom French Jr. misses his father every day.

"We had many things that we shared growing up. He was always very involved. We did so much together so it's been really hard," he said.

Tom French Sr., a Bucks County deputy sheriff, died suddenly in 2015, and his only son's heartbreak is exacerbated by a fight over his dad's estate.

"I have no pictures. I have none of our home videos. Going to the cemetery all the time, it kills me and to have these people have all the physical memories; it's not right," he said.

A couple of months after French Sr. passed away, his third wife, Claire Risoldi, produced a document she claims is a photocopy of his original will. She said the original burned in a fire at their Bucks County mansion.

"Not only is it a manufactured document, it's a poorly manufactured document," said Karl Prior, French's attorney.

French and his attorney said the two signatures on the document are exactly the same.

"I knew instantly without a doubt in my mind that this is a fraudulent copy," French said.

He has been contesting the document but the wheels of justice have been turning slowly in his case because Risoldi has been embroiled in another case.

Remember the fire that Risoldi said burned her husband's original will? This past February, Risoldi was found guilty of being the mastermind behind nearly $13 million in false insurance claims related to that fire.

Bucks Co. woman convicted in insurance fraud case. Matt O'Donnell reports during Action News Mornings on February 6, 2019.

She was recently sentenced to up to 23 months in jail. And she already had a criminal record. She pleaded guilty in 1990 of two counts of federal mail fraud.

"I think she's an awful person. I don't understand how she could do this to another human, especially one she called her son," French said. "I wish my dad had left me a copy of the will or given me instructions on where I could find a copy of the will."

French Sr. was also indicted in the insurance fraud case. He committed suicide two weeks later.

Prior said if French Sr. had done that, all of this could have been avoided.

And this is a lesson for all families.

"If you don't have a will, someone else will decide what happens to your assets, what happens to your kids," Prior said.

There are ways to draw up a will on your own, but Prior said it's best to hire a lawyer who specializes in trust and estate planning.

"It's literally been four years now that I've been fighting and it's been the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life," French said.

Store your will in a safe deposit box or keep it at your attorney's office and make sure someone knows it's there.

We did reach out to Risoldi's attorney but have not heard back.

For more information:

Beware of Living Trust Scams

Pennsylvania Bar Association

Will and Estates