New Mass SJC Ruling Affects Inheritance Rights of Families

Recently, the Boston Globe reported that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court handed down a major ruling affecting the future inheritance rights of families, and in this case specifically, blended families.  In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that spouses are entitled to one-third of their deceased spouses’ estate – effectively cancelling out the late spouse’s estate plan.  This is known as a forced spousal share.

In this particular case, a second wife filed suit against her deceased husband’s estate, and against her step children, for her spousal share.  The deceased husband had created his Last Will and Testament decades earlier making his four children equal beneficiaries of his estate.   When he passed away in 2015, his second wife of approximately two years of marriage petitioned the Probate and Family Court effectively nullifying his Will and award her one-third of the estate.  The Court agreed while citing an elective share law dating back to 1783 protecting spouses from disinheritance.

This case loudly reinforces the need to continually review your estate plan, especially when there are changes in your family situation.  With advance planning and the use of Trusts, this family could have avoided years of litigation while preserving the decedent’s wishes as to where he wanted his hard earned life assets to go. You can read more on the value of trusts in blended families in our article “Blended Families and the Value of Revocable Trusts”.

If you want to ensure your estate doesn’t suffer the same fate as this court case, our experienced attorneys are happy to guide you in making the best decisions for your family situation.