Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the superior court judge granting partial summary judgment and separate and final judgment for Plaintiffs in this familial dispute over assets left by Lubov Stempniewicz, the mother and grandmother to the parties to this action, holding that the judgment is reversed with respect to count eight of Plaintiffs' complaint.Plaintiffs initiated this action against their uncle to determine the validity of the Living Trust of Lubov Stempniewicz. Plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that their uncle acted without authority in creating the trust, and therefore the trust was void ab initio. The superior court agreed and granted judgment for Plaintiffs. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part, holding that summary judgment was proper as to all counts except count eight, alleging "constructive trust." View "Barbetti v. Stempniewicz" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order of the trial judge denying Barbara Howard's motion to dismiss a petition seeking to partition two adjacent parcels of land in Foster that Howard Dunn and Howard owned as joint tenants with a right of survivorship, holding that Howard's motion to dismiss should have been granted.During the partition proceedings, Dunn died. Howard subsequently filed her motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, asserting that Dunn's death vested full title in her as the surviving joint tenant. The trial judge denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) the partition proceedings and the acceptance of a buyer's offer to purchase the property did not sever the joint tenancy or terminate Howard's right of survivorship; (2) Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 241, 26 does not confer standing on the heirs of a joint tenant to continue a partition action; and (3) where a party lacks standing under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 241, 1, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 241, 25 does not permit the land court to retain jurisdiction over the defective suit. View "Battle v. Howard" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the superior court granting Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims alleging undue influence in this trusts and estates case, holding that Plaintiffs' claims for intentional interference and unjust enrichment were not time barred.After learning that they had been removed as beneficiaries of their grandfather's trust, Plaintiffs brought suit against their aunts and their grandmother's estate, arguing that their exclusion from the trust arose from undue influence. The superior court dismissed the action, concluding that the claims were time barred under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 203E, 604, which establishes a one-year deadline after the trust settlor's death for actions contesting the validity of a trust. On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that their claims did not challenge the validity of the trust and were therefore not time barred. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed, holding that Plaintiffs' claims were substantively different from the trust contests governed by section 604 and were therefore not time barred. View "Sacks v. Dissinger" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court reversing the determination of the Massachusetts Office of Medicaid's board of hearings that Plaintiff's home was a countable asset, making her ineligible for Medicaid long-term care benefits, holding that the superior court did not err.While they were both still living, Plaintiff and her husband created an irrevocable trust, the corpus of which included their home. The terms of the trust granted Plaintiff, during her lifetime, a limited power of appointment to appoint all or any portion of the trust principal to a nonprofit or charitable organization over which she had no controlling interest. MassHealth denied Plaintiff's application for long-term care benefits, determining that the home was a countable asset because Plaintiff purportedly could use her limited power of appointment to appoint portions of the home's equity, which was included as part of the trust principal, to the nursing home where Plaintiff lived as payment for her care. The superior court reversed. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that the plain terms of the trust neither intended for nor permitted Plaintiff to exercise her limited power of appointment for her benefit, as contemplated by MassHealth. View "Fournier v. Secretary of Executive Office of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the Estate of Jacqueline Ann Kendall was not required to pay a claim for reimbursement from the Commonwealth's MassHealth program when the estate proceeding was commenced more than three years after Kendall died.Kendall received MassHealth benefits in the amount of $104,738 and died intestate on August 7, 2014. On May 24, 2018, one of Kendall's heirs filed a petition for late formal testacy and notified MassHealth. MassHealth filed a notice of claim in the estate. At issue was whether the estate was required to pay the MassHealth claim more than three years after Kendall died. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 190B, 3-803(f) creates an exception for MassHealth to the general limitation on creditor claims laid out in section 3-803(a) but does not create an exception to the ultimate time limit on the personal representative's power to pay claims and creditors' ability to bring claims laid out in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 190B, 3-108; and (2) therefore, MassHealth's claims were time barred. View "In re Estate of Kendall" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court answered a question certified to it by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, holding that the assets of a self-settled discretionary spendthrift irrevocable trust governed by Massachusetts law are not protected from a reach and apply action by the deceased settlor's creditors.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court concluded that, based on the circumstances presented in this case and consistent with the well-established public policy of the Commonwealth, when a settlor creates a self-settled spendthrift irrevocable trust that is governed by Massachusetts law and that allowed unlimited distributions to the settlor during his lifetime, and a judgment-creditor's cause of action accrues prior to the settlor's death, a judgment-creditor of the settlor's estate may reach and apply the trust's assets after the settlor's death. View "De Prins v. Michaeles" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the appellate tax board (board) upholding the Commissioner of Revenue's assessment of an additional Massachusetts estate tax based on the value of a qualified terminable interest property (QTIP) trust in computing a decedent's Massachusetts estate tax return, holding that there was not a constitutional or a statutory barrier to the assessment.Robert Chuckrow created a QTIP trust in New York. Adelaid Chuckrow (decedent) was the lifetime income beneficiary of the QTIP trust and deed domiciled in Massachusetts. The decedent's estate (estate) did not include the value of the QTIP trust assets in computing her Massachusetts estate tax return. After an audit, the Commission assessed an additional Massachusetts estate tax of almost $2 million based on the value of the QTIP assets. The board upheld the assessment. At issue before the Supreme Judicial Court was whether the intangible assets in the QTIP trust were includable in the gross estate of the decedent for purposes of calculating the Massachusetts estate tax under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 65C, 2A(a). The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the QTIP assets were includable in the estate for purposes of the Massachusetts estate tax. View "Shaffer v. Commissioner of Revenue" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that, to the extent a surviving spouse’s shares of a deceased spouse’s estate exceeds $25,000, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 191, 15, the Commonwealth’s elective share statute, reduces his or her interest in the real property from outright ownership to a life estate.The dispute here centered on the nature of a surviving spouse’s interest in a deceased spouse’s real property where the surviving spouse’s shares of the decedent’s personal and real property together exceeded $25,000 in value. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) where a surviving spouse elects to waive the provisions of a deceased spouse’s will in accordance with section 15 and the decedent left issue, the surviving spouse is entitled to one-third of the decedent’s personal property and one-third of the decedent’s real property; (2) the above is subject to the limitation that if the surviving spouse’s shares of the real and property property, taken together, exceed $25,000 in value, then the surviving spouse takes $25,000 absolutely and a life estate in any remaining real property; and (3) further, any remaining personal property must be held in trust for the duration of the surviving spouse’s life with the surviving spouse entitled to the income therefrom. View "Ciani v. MacGrath" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of a single justice denying Petitioners’ petition filed pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 asking the court to address the issue whether a trustee can appear “pro se” to represent a trust, holding that the single justice did not err or abuse his discretion in denying relief.Specifically, Petitioners asked the court to address the issue whether a “non-lawyer trustee” is “entitled” to “self-representation.” The single justice denied the petition without a hearing. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that this case did not present the type of exceptional circumstance that requires the exercise of this court’s extraordinary power of general superintendence pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3. View "Eresian v. Scheffer" on Justia Law

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At issue was the lawfulness of allowing a hospital to transfer a patient involuntarily to a skilled nursing facility in the absence of a guardianship. The Supreme Court held that the appointment of a guardian over an incapacitated person is necessary, but not by itself sufficient, to admit an incapacitated person to a nursing facility against his or her will, because such an admission requires an additional order by the court based on a specific finding that the admission is in the incapacitated person’s best interest.Specifically, the Court held that when a hospital patient refuses to consent to be transferred to a nursing facility, a judge may order the patient to be admitted to a nursing facility under the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code only if the judge (1) finds the patient to be an incapacitated person; (2) makes the other findings necessary to appoint a guardian under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 190B, 5-306(b); and (3) then grants the guardian specific authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 190B, 5-309(g) to admit the incapacitated person to a nursing facility after finding that such admission is in the incapacitated person’s best interest. View "In re Guardianship of D.C." on Justia Law