A probate judge in Coventry has reopened the 55-year-old estate of a relative of Gideon Welles to determine if rare artifacts, including handwritten notes by President Abraham Lincoln, were illegally sold and not included as part of the estate.
For the past five months, the Welles and the Brainards, descendents of Gideon Welles who served as Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy during the Civil War, have been appearing before Probate Judge James K. Kelley arguing about what happened to what could be priceless items — from as many as 713 handwritten notes by Lincoln to Gideon Welles to a rare Spencer carbine rifle that Lincoln gave to Welles after firing it once himself. The rifle was said to be the 16th ever made.
The Welleses and another side of the family, the Smiths, are accusing some of the Brainards of secretly selling off artifacts without telling anyone in the family or sharing the profits.
In his six-page ruling released this week, Kelley found that the original estate of Ruth Trost Welles, who died in 1955, was never properly inventoried and that evidence shows that non-inventoried property belonging to Gideon Welles was sold and not properly distributed to the heirs.
Kelley has appointed Willimantic attorney Kevin Connors as the new administrator of the estate, charged with determining what existed, what happened to it, who owns it now and how much money should be part of the estate.
Even the Welles' attorney, Michael Kopsick, acknowledges that Connors will have a difficult job separating truth from fiction.
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Judge Re-opens Case With Ties to Abraham Lincoln
Read the Probate Judge's Decision