A Massachusetts case demonstrates the importance of making any agreements about inheritance in writing. The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled that rendering services to someone in the hope or expectation that it will result in payment from an estate is not sufficient to entitle an individual to a portion of the estate.
Suzanne M. Cheney performed many services for her stepfather, Anthony R. Turco, expecting to receive a share of his estate. However, to her great disappointment, upon his passing he left her nothing. Whether or not this was Mr. Turco’s wish, we will never know. Ms. Cheney subsequently sued James F. Flood, Jr., who was both her stepfather’s lawyer and administrator of her stepfather’s estate, alleging legal malpractice and that she was entitled to recovery from the estate for the reasonable value of the services she and her family performed for Mr. Turco during the last years of his life.
The trial court judge dismissed the legal malpractice claim because Ms. Cheney and Mr. Flood had no attorney-client relationship. The judge then dismissed the claim that there had been an implied promise of payment for services, called quantum meruit under the law, because Ms. Cheney failed to allege that she performed services for Mr. Turco with the expectation that she would be paid for them.
Ms. Cheney appealed the decision regarding the quantum meruit claim, arguing that while there was no express agreement between her and Mr. Turco that she would provide services to him in exchange for being listed in his will as beneficiary, she had always hoped that he would pay her through his estate. Unfortunately for Ms. Cheney, the court found that this gave her no legal basis for payment without an underlying contract or agreement between the parties. The court ruled that Ms. Cheney’s hope or expectation, even though well founded, is not equivalent to entitling her to reasonable value of services under the legal concept of quantum meruit.
It seems that Ms. Cheney’s mistake was relying on a hope or expectation of receiving an inheritance under her stepfather’s estate and neither discussing it with him nor documenting a contract or agreement between the two.
To download the court’s decision, click here.
The moral of the story: Make your wishes known formally by completing your estate plan. And if you are expecting an inheritance in the absence of signed legal documents, you are guaranteed nothing.