In what some are calling the longest-running probate case on record, the heirs of a businessman are still caught in a dispute over the man’s assets 36 years after the case began. The case offers Massachusetts residents a glimpse into what can happen when estate planning doesn’t go as planned.
The businessman accumulated his fortune through hard work, starting with almost nothing, and ended up with a successful funeral home business and real estate assets that included an estimated $6 million in multi-family homes. The homes were reportedly appraised at $340,700 in 1976. The man’s son claims that the homes were bringing in $40,000 a month in rent.
When the businessman died in 1976, his will designated that the real estate properties were to be contained in a trust. When the youngest of the man’s children turned 30, which would have occurred in 1981, the trust was supposed to be dissolved and the value split between the man’s three children.
According to the man’s son, however, something went awry. He claims that the value of the trust did not include thousands of dollars in rent payments and that several of the homes were sold for less than what they were worth at tax sales. The final accounting document submitted in 2008 to the probate court showed that five of the homes sold for a combined $30,046.67 in 1982.
While the man’s son claims the properties were in “fair to good condition” and that they were fully occupied, one of the attorneys for the case claims that there is no way to conclusively tell what the condition of the properties was at the time they were sold. The attorney also claims that the children were given at least $76,000 from the trust. The man’s son says that it was more like $8,000.
It can be difficult in cases like these to get a clear understanding of the facts when 20 to 30 years have passed. Probate court records can offer some clarity on what happened in the past in an estate, but in nuanced cases, having a professional with specialized knowledge of estate law can be of help.
Source: WPRI, “Legal fight over ‘fortune’ spans four decades” Walt Buteau, May. 20, 2014
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