TO HAMOGELO TOY PAIDIOU a/k/a THE SMILE OF THE CHILD, Appellant,
ESTATE OF MATOULA PAPADOPOULI, Appellee.
Plaintiff: Kevin B. Murphy, Esq.; Paul F. Green, Esq.
Defendant: Peter B. Regan, Esq.; Melissa Green, Esq.
this Court for decision is the Appellant's, To Hamogelo
Toy Paidiou a/k/a The Smile of the Child (TSOTC), appeal from
an April 13, 2017 Order (April 13th Order) from
the Probate Court of the Town of Middletown (Probate Court).
The Appellee, Cynthia A. Kendall, in her capacity as
Administratrix of the Estate of Matoula Papadopouli
(Administratrix), timely objected. Jurisdiction is pursuant
to G.L. 1956 § 33-23-1.
Facts and Travel
decedent, Matoua A. Papadopouli (Papadopouli),  was born in
Newport, Rhode Island on January 12, 1955. (Kelemenis Aff.
¶ 4.) During Papadopouli's life, she attained her
bachelor's degree from Tufts University and her
master's degree in Library Sciences from the University
of Rhode Island. (Appellee's Ex. 2.) Papadopouli served
twenty years in the military, where she was stationed in
Greece and Turkey. (Appellee's Ex. 1.) Once Papadopouli
returned to the United States, she continued her work as a
librarian. Id. Throughout Papadopouli's life,
she had dual citizenship in the United States and Greece.
(Kelemenis Aff. ¶ 4.) She also owned property in Greece
and in the United States, which included property located in
Rhode Island. (Revised Joint Statement of Facts ¶
March 27, 2001, Papadopouli executed a will (2001 Will) while
she was residing at RR #2 Box 2080, Lakewood, Pennsylvania
18439. (Appellee's Ex. 3.) In the 2001 Will, Papadopouli
devised her residuary estate to her three first cousins:
Christina Haines, Catherine Ann Michael, and Cynthia Ann
Kendall-all of whom resided in Middletown, Rhode Island.
Id. Thereafter, Papadopouli moved to 115 Rolling
Hill Road, Portsmouth, Rhode Island, where she made her
permanent residence. However, Papadopouli continued to visit
and live on Skiathos, Greece. (Kelemenis Aff. ¶ 4.)
October 2, 2013, Papadopouli purportedly drafted a
holographic will (Holographic Will) that was drafted and
executed in Skiathos, Greece. (Appellee's Ex. A.) The
Holographic Will declares the following: "I Matoula
Papadopouli of Alexander I inherit [sic] all my property to
Hamogelo tou Paidiou. (www.hamogelo.ge)
Giannis N. Kontomanis will have the right to stay
living in my house in Skiathos, St. George, as long as he
lives to take care of my animals." Id. The
Holographic Will also bore Papadopouli's signature.
Id. After Papadopouli allegedly executed the
Holographic Will, she handed the Holographic Will to her
close friend and attorney, Attorney Styliani Lilou (Attorney
Lilou). (Kelemenis Aff. ¶ 5.) The Holographic Will
sought to devise Papadopouli's Estate to Hamogelo Toy
Paidiou, which is a voluntary, non-profit child welfare
organization based in Athens, Greece. The Greek name,
"To Hamogelo Toy Paidiou," translates into English
as "The Smile of the Child." This organization has
a stated purpose of protecting and promoting the rights of
children. In addition, the Holographic Will sought to devise
a life estate to Ioannis N. Kontomanis, a resident of Greece,
who was living with Papadopouli at the time of her death.
(Kelemenis Aff. ¶ 6.)
November of 2014, Papadopouli was admitted to Tufts Medical
Center and underwent surgery, which resulted in a pathology
result that diagnosed her with Stage IV brain cancer.
(Appellee's Ex. 1.) On October 4, 2015, Papadopouli passed
away at a medical rehabilitation center in Volos, Greece.
(Revised Joint Statement of Facts ¶ 8.) At the time of
her death, Papadopouli was not married, left no descendants,
and her parents were predeceased. Id. at 9.
Papadopouli's death, an Administration Petition was filed
with the Probate Court, which sought the appointment of
Cynthia Kendall as the Administratrix of Papadopouli's Estate
(Estate). (Revised Joint Statement of Facts ¶ 10.) On
October 28, 2015, the Petition was granted, and Cynthia
Kendall was appointed as the Administratrix of the Estate.
Id. However, also after Papadopouli's death,
Attorney Lilou proceeded with the necessary actions in Greece
to publish Papadopouli's Holographic Will. (Kelemenis Aff.
¶¶ 6-8.) In accordance with the Holographic Will,
Attorney Lilou sought to institute TSOTC as the sole heir and
devisee of the Estate, with the exception of the life estate
granted to Ioannis N. Kontomanis. Id.
March 21, 2016, Papadopouli's Uncle, Charles Michael
(Michael), contested the Holographic Will on grounds before
the Court of First Instance at Volos (Greek Litigation).
(Kelemenis Aff. ¶ 8.) Michael requested the Court of
First Instance to declare the Holographic Will void asserting
that the Holographic Will was not drafted by Papadopouli.
Id. ¶ 9. In support, Michael presented an
Expert's Handwriting Analysis which evaluates the
Holographic Will. Id. The expert's analysis
demonstrated that the Holographic Will was written by a
third-party, and Papadopouli's purported signature was
written sometime after the Holographic Will was drafted.
(Appellee's Ex. 4.) Specifically, Papadopouli's
signature was written "when her brain disorder had
already emerged, leading to the corresponding effects on her
cognitive functions." Id.
26, 2016, TSOTC filed a petition with the Probate Court
requesting (1) the Administratrix to identify the assets of
the Estate that are subject to administration; (2) the
Administratrix to return funds that were distributed or
obtained by the Estate until the final determination of the
proper beneficiary; and (3) the Court to place a stay on the
administration of the Estate until the disposition of the
Greek Litigation. (Appellant's Ex. B.) On July 19, 2016,
the Probate Court held a hearing on the petition. (Revised
Joint Statement of Facts ¶ 15.) On August 30, 2016, the
Probate Court entered an Order (August 30th
Order), setting forth the following: (1) the Administratrix
shall identify and take possession of the assets of the
Estate; (2) the Administratrix shall identify any Estate
asset that was distributed and take the appropriate steps to
have those assets returned to the Estate; (3) there shall be
no distribution of the Estate assets pending final
disposition of the active will contest pending before the
Court of First Instance at Volos, Greece, or until further
order of this Court; and (4) the Administratrix and the
Petitioner shall within 7 days each disclose to the other any
information that may have regarding the decedent's
assets, including all real and personal property, in the
United States, Greece or elsewhere, following which, the
Administratrix shall prepare and file the Estate inventory.
(Appellant's Ex C.) After the August 30th
Order was entered, the parties exchanged a list of assets.
(Appellant's Ex. D.) The Estate assets included bank
accounts at BankNewport, Stifel Bank, and ABN-AMRO. (Revised
Joint Statement of Facts ¶ 17.) On February 1, 2017,
TSOTC sent a letter to Stifel Bank, asserting that they were
the sole devisee to the Estate and requested the bank to
freeze all accounts held in the name of the Papadopouli.
(Revised Joint Statement of Facts ¶ 20.)
February 7, 2017, the Administratrix filed a Miscellaneous
Petition with the Probate Court requesting an Order granting
the Administratrix full access to all of the Estate's
accounts, so that the Administratrix can pay expenses related
to the pendency of the will contest. TSOTC timely objected to
the Administratrix's Miscellaneous Petition. In addition,
TSOTC filed a Cross-Petition requesting an accounting of the
Estate's expenses, a declaration that the Administratrix
cannot use the assets of the estate to contest the will, and
an order disgorging and requiring the return of all expenses
for legal fees related to the will contest. The
Administratrix responded to TSOTC's objection and
objected to the Cross-Petition. On March 15, 2017, the
Probate Court held a hearing on the Administratrix's
Miscellaneous Petition. On April 13, 2017, the Probate Court
issued the April 13th Order that mandated the
following: (1) to lift the freeze on the Stifel Bank Account;
(2) to use the Estate assets to pay for the fees and costs
associated with the will contest which was an extension of
administrative costs; and (3) requiring any additional
payments to be approved by the Probate Court. TSOTC now
appeals the Probate Court's April 13th Order.
The Administratrix on behalf of the Estate objected.
Standard of Review
33-23-1 of the Rhode Island General Laws governs probate
appeals, which provides the following:
"(a) Any person aggrieved by an order or decree of a
probate court (hereinafter 'appellant'), may, unless
provisions be made to the contrary, appeal to the superior
court for the county in which the probate court is
established by taking the following procedure:
"(1) Within twenty (20) days after execution of the
order or decree by the probate judge, the appellant shall
file, in the office of the clerk of the probate court, a
claim of appeal to the superior court and a request for a
certified copy of the claim and shall pay the clerk his or
her fees therefor.
"(2) Within thirty (30) days after the entry of the
order or decree, the appellant shall file, in the superior
court, a certified copy of the claim and the reasons of
appeal specifically stated, to which reasons the appellant
shall be restricted, unless, for cause shown, and with or
without terms, the superior court shall allow amendments and
"(3) The appellant shall file with the probate clerk an
affidavit in proof of the filing and docketing of the probate
appeal pursuant to the time deadlines set forth in
subdivision (a)(2)." Section 33-23-1(a).
reviewing a probate appeal, "the [S]uperior [C]ourt is
not a court of review of assigned errors of the probate
judge, but is rather a court for retrial of the case de
novo." In re Estate of
Paroda, 845 A.2d 1012, 1017 (R.I. 2004) (citing
Malinou v. McCarthy, 98 R.I. 189, 192, 200 A.2d 578,
579 (1964)); see also § 33-23-1(b).
Furthermore, "the findings of fact and/or decisions of
the probate court may be given as much weight and deference
as the superior court deems appropriate, however, the
superior court shall not be bound by any such findings or
decisions." Section 33-23-1(b).