The Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled that rendering services to someone in the hope that it will result in payment from their estate is not sufficient to entitle an individual to a portion of the estate. Cheney v. Flood (84 Mass. App. Ct. 1134, Feb. 7, 2014)
Even if you do not live in Massachusetts, if you are caring for an elderly loved one there is something to be learned from a recent case in the Bay State, Cheney v. Flood (84 Mass. App. Ct. 1134, Feb. 7, 2014). There is a difference between care provided out of a sense of responsibility and care provided with an expectation of payment.
ElderLawAnswers considered the Cheney case in an article titled “Don't Just Hope for an Inheritance; Get It in Writing.” In the case in question, Suzanne M. Cheney and her family offered many services to her stepfather, Anthony R. Turco. They provided these services without an actual agreement for payment but with the expectation that their compensation would come from an inheritance. Well, Anthony passed away and Suzanne was not a named beneficiary in his estate plan.
Suzanne was not happy. She took the estate to court, arguing that she was due reasonable compensation for her care independent of any inheritance. The court disagreed, finding that there was no evidence she offered her care with expectation of compensation. In all cases, there needs to be a very detailed conversation between caregiver and the loved one receiving care about both the caregiver's compensation and the care to be provided. Once a meeting of the minds has taken place, it must result in a written plan signed by all parties. Therefore, if you care for an elderly loved one, there are some very real ways to structure that relationship so that it serves everyone’s benefit. It’s imperative to have a written contract in place so that you avoid the inevitable resentment you may feel as everyone else receives an inheritance while you provided all the care or worse, the financial and emotional toll of a court battle you will likely lose. There is one added benefit to the written contract that the article fails to address and it's one I have seen many times in my practice. Family members don't always provided the best care to those they loved despite their good intentions; by making the caregiver a virtual employee, sound business practices apply.
You can learn more about this topic as well as other strategies on our website under the tab entitled: elder law planning in Virginia. Be sure you also sign up for our complimentary e-newsletter so that you may be informed of all the latest issues that could affect you, your loved ones and your estate planning
Reference: ElderLawAnswers (March 17, 2014) “Don't Just Hope for an Inheritance; Get It in Writing”