Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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In the case concerning the estate of Frances R. Mason, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled on two key issues. First, it considered whether the Massachusetts Medicaid program, MassHealth, could enforce a lien (known as a TEFRA lien) against a member's property after the member's death. The Court concluded that, under Massachusetts law, MassHealth can only enforce such a lien if the property is sold during the member's lifetime. Therefore, MassHealth could not enforce its lien against Mason's property, which was not sold until after her death. This ruling is a restriction on MassHealth's ability to recover Medicaid benefits paid.Second, the Court addressed the timing of MassHealth's claim for recovery of Medicaid benefits paid on Mason's behalf. The Court concluded that the three-year statute of repose of the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (MUPC) does not apply retroactively to bar MassHealth's claim against the estate of a member who died prior to the effective date of the MUPC. Accordingly, MassHealth's claim against Mason's estate, which was filed nearly nine years after her death, was not barred by the MUPC's three-year statute of repose.The facts of the case were as follows: Frances R. Mason was a recipient of Medicaid benefits from MassHealth. From January to August 2008, MassHealth paid for her care in a residential nursing facility. In May 2008, MassHealth imposed a TEFRA lien against Mason's home, as she was expected to be permanently institutionalized in the facility. Mason died in August 2008 without the property having been sold. MassHealth filed a claim to recover the Medicaid benefits paid for Mason's care in August 2018, after the executor of Mason's will had opened formal probate proceedings in June 2017.The disposition by the Court was to affirm the order of the Probate and Family Court judge insofar as it struck MassHealth's lien against Mason's home, and to reverse the order insofar as it dismissed MassHealth's claim against her estate. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Court's opinion. View "In re Estate of Mason" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the trial judge finding Jane Furnas in contempt for failing either to refinance or to list property for sale according to an agreement, holding that there was no error.Furnas, who together with Anthony Cirone owned property as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, filed a petition to partition the property. The parties settled on an agreement wherein Cirone would make monthly payments to Furnas, who would either keep the mortgage current and refinance or list the property for sale. The agreement was incorporated in a decree. Anthony later died and Plaintiff, his daughter acting as personal representative of his estate, filed a complaint for contempt alleging that Furnas had failed to comply with the terms of the decree. The judge found Furnas in civil contempt. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Furnas's right of survivorship was terminated and that the agreement was enforceable by Cirone's estate. View "Furnas v. Cirone" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the decree and order of the superior court in this probate action, holding that there existed a genuine issue of material fact precluding the grant of partial summary judgment.The decedent's will left her entire estate to a testamentary trust for the benefit of her dog, Licorice, and any other pet she might have at the time of her death. At the time of her death, however, no pet survived the decedent. Under the terms of the trust, the trustees were required to designate a charity to receive the remainder of funds in the trustees' control after the death of all beneficiaries. At issue was whether the remainder of the decedent's estate to charity was valid despite Licorice having predeceased the decent or whether Licorice's failure to survive the decedent rendered the pet trust void. On partial summary judgment, the judge held that the pet trust provision failed because Licorice predeceased the decedent. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case, holding that the provisions for Licorice in the testamentary trust lapsed, leaving a genuine issue of material fact whether there was a clear intention that the charitable remainder not be conditioned on Licorice's survival of the decedent. View "In re Estate of Jablonski" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the judgment of the probate and family court dismissing a petition for formal probate seeking appointment as personal representative, holding that the position of voluntary personal representative charged with administering a small estate pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 190B, 3-1201 constitutes a "prior appointment" within the meaning of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 190B, 3-108's exception to the three-year limit.Petitioner, the voluntary personal representative of the decedent's estate pursuant to section 3-1201, filed a petition for formal probate seeking an appointment as personal representative under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 120B, 3-402. After receiving briefing on the issue of whether the position of voluntary personal representative under section 3-1201 constitutes a prior appointment under section 3-108 such that a subsequent formal petition for appointment under section 3-402 could be filed more than three years after the decedent's death, a probate and family court judge dismissed the petition as untimely. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that Petitioner's petition for formal appointment was timely. View "In re Estate of Slavin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court remanded these consolidated cases seeking a judgment declaring the parties' respective rights to each of the remainder proceeds of two annuity contracts, holding that the cases were governed in all material respects by the Court's decision today in Dermody v. Executive office of Health & Human Servs., 491 Mass. __ (2023).In each of these cases, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (Commonwealth) claimed entitlement to remainder proceeds of the two annuity contracts up to the amount of medical assistance paid on behalf of an institutionalized spouse, whose eligibility for Medicaid long-term care benefits was obtained through the purchase of an annuity during the relevant "look-back" period, as defined under 42 U.S.C. 1396p(c). The Supreme Judicial Court held that the Commonwealth was entitled to remainder proceeds from the annuities to the extent of benefits it paid on behalf of the institutionalized spouses in this case. View "Executive Office of Health & Human Services v. Mondor" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the order of the superior court allowing Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in this lawsuit brought against the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and Nationwide Life Insurance Company in this dispute over the remainder of an annuity issued by Nationwide, holding that the superior court erred.Robert Hamel purchased the annuity at issue to help Joan Hamel, his wife, become eligible for Medicaid benefits, which was necessary to pay for her long-term care. Robert named the Commonwealth as the primary remainder beneficiary to the "extent benefits paid" and Plaintiff, his daughter, as the contingent remainder beneficiary. Before the end of the annuity period Robert died. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit alleging that she was entitled to the remainder. The superior court entered summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff and denied the Commonwealth's motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's claim for declaratory judgment. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated and reversed the judgment below, holding that, upon Robert's passing, the remainder of the annuity properly belonged to the Commonwealth up to the amount it paid for Joan's care. View "Dermody v. Executive Office of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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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