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A beloved Mankato-area sculptor's will leaving everything to his former assistant is in doubt after a court ruling released Monday found his signature may have been forged.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals last month reversed a District Court decision not to reopen legal matters over Arnold Lillo's estate after his children brought forth evidence the notary, a Good Thunder city official, lied about being present when Lillo signed it.

His will left his home and metal shop to Robyn Block, the woman who worked under him for years, according to a will dated and signed in early December of 2021. Lillo died later that month at age 83 on Christmas Day from COVID complications, several weeks after he was assaulted with a hammer by Block's former boyfriend, Brandon McMurtrey.

"We're happy with the decision and we will be pursuing our clients' interest," said Jason Raether, one of the lawyers representing Lillo's children Mark Lillo and Tammy Jo Klahn.

Steven Fink, attorney for Robyn Block, did not respond to multiple attempts for comment Monday.

Arnold Lillo was an attraction in Good Thunder who drew hundreds of visitors to his home each year to see the metal works he created, from the piece he said was the world's largest working gun to the model Eiffel Tower he built for his ailing wife almost a decade ago.

At the time of the Nov. 10 hammer attack, Block was avoiding McMurtrey because of his abusive behavior and threats he made against her and Lillo, according to court records. A police report states McMurtrey went to Lillo's house to speak to him, then hit him while his back was turned.

McMurtrey ended up pleading guilty to felony first-degree assault under an Alford plea, meaning he maintained his innocence but acknowledged there was ample evidence to convict him. He was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison in August of 2022.

Lillo told local media outlets shortly after he was attacked he had hoped Block would take over his metal studio. Since his death Block has turned the space at Lillo's home into a museum honoring his work, as well as helping to finish several pieces Lillo had started, including a sculpture of the Great Lakes.

Block in January 2022 began court proceedings to take over Lillo's estate, including about $280,000 in real estate assets, a $25,000 promissory note from Block and three vehicles with unknown values. Lillo's children had no objections at the time; Block filed to close the estate that September.

But Lillo's children motioned to contest the will toward the end of 2022 after they discovered the Blue Earth County Sheriff's Office had looked into Lillo's will. The District Court last year declined to reopen legal proceedings in the estate, arguing too much time had passed and reopening the estate would be unduly biased against Block.

The Appeals Court disagreed, ruling on Feb. 22 the estate should be reopened.

Court records show a relative approached investigators concerned Lillo's signature on the will didn't match his handwriting, among other issues.

According to an investigative report, Block told police she and Lillo had signed the will in the presence of Good Thunder City Clerk Ashney Helleksen and another friend.

Helleksen told police the same thing but later recanted her story in an email to an investigator, saying Block had brought documents with Lillo's signature for her to notarize and that Helleksen had never been to Lillo's house. The investigative report states Helleksen told police Block had previously asked her to lie about being present at the time.

Block stuck to her story when confronted by investigators, according to a court report, but also said she had memory issues stemming from past trauma and a brain injury she suffered in 2013.

The investigator recommended felony aggravated forgery charges be filed, but the Blue Earth County Attorney's Office declined to pursue the case.