If Someone has Interfered with your Inheritance, How Much Time do you have to Bring the Claim?

Oftentimes family members quarrel when a relative dies and excludes someone from a will or a trust.  By statute, Massachusetts requires a person who contests the validity of a will or a trust to commence a lawsuit within one year of death.  The Supreme Judicial Court recently held, however, that the one year rule does not apply in all circumstances.  The case is Sacks v. Dissinger, SJC-13105 (Dec. 29, 2021) – see link below:

In Sacks, the plaintiffs were excluded from their grandfather’s revocable trust (a popular substitute for wills), but did not learn of their exclusion until many years after his death, as they only became beneficiaries upon their grandmother’s passing.  They brought suit against their aunts (their deceased father’s sisters), whom they allege orchestrated their disinheritance by convincing their grandfather (the aunts’ father) that they were responsible for the premature death of their father.  The Superior Court dismissed the complaint because it was brought more than one year after the grandfather’s death.  The SJC reversed.  The SJC held that the one-year statute of limitations only applies if the claim seeks to invalidate the trust in its entirety.  Because the plaintiffs did not seek to invalidate the trust as a whole, but only sought damages against other beneficiaries for wrongfully interfering with their expected inheritance, they had three years from the date their learned of their exclusion to bring suit.  The reasoning behind the decision, in part, relates to the fact that administration of a trust is uniquely private and not subject to the open process applicable to the probate of wills.  As a result, excluded beneficiaries are much less likely to learn of their exclusion from a trust than they are of their exclusion from a will.

-By David Mack