In McGeoghean v. McGeoghean, 2009 Mass. Super. LEXIS 147 (Suffolk Sup. Ct. June 1, 2009), a Superior Court decision from June that was just recently reported, the Court addressed a number of issues relating to a mother's distribution of her assets -- including the family business, real estate, real estate investments, and cash -- to her five children. The facts and rulings are too complicated to summarize, but three aspects of the decision are worth noting.
First, the Court enforced the mother's promise to leave the family business and the real estate on which it sat to her son John upon her death. When the father had died in 1991, the mother and John and the entire rest of the family agreed that the father's construction business would thereafter be owned 60% by the mother and 40% by John, and the mother promised John that her share of the business and the real estate would become his outright if he continued to pay the expenses associated with the business and the real estate until her death. John did so. In the meantime, however, under what may have been dubious circumstances, ownership of the real estate was transferred to a separate entity. Rather than order specific performance, the Court held that John was entitled to the quantum meruit value of the expenses he had paid, which could be satisfied by the transfer of the business and the real estate to John in accordance with the mother's promise. The Court could have but did not impose a constructive trust for the benefit of John, explaining that the imposition of a constructive trust "could only be expected to result in endless continued squabbling among the siblings."
Second, another of the mother's sons, Kevin, claimed that the mother had promised to leave her Hyannis property to him upon her death. Because the records revealed, however, that the mother had financially supported Kevin for many years, the Court found that the mother had already provided for Kevin in an amount equal to what she was providing to her other children, and thus held that any promise by the mother to Kevin regarding the Hyannis property was without consideration and unenforceable.
Third, although there was some question as to whether the mother had the mental capacity to execute a new will two or three days before her death, the Court upheld the validity of the new will. The Court relied on attestations as to the mother's competency by witnesses and her primary-care physician. The Court also seemed to place weight on the fact that the new will, as opposed to an earlier will, was more consistent with the mother's oft-expressed intention to treat her children equally. In reaching this holding, the Court cited Massachusetts case law for the proposition that even a person of pathologically unsound mind may possess testamentary capacity at any given time and lack it at all others.