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  • Writer's pictureSummers Family Law

Navigating the Unique Landscape of Future Inheritances in Massachusetts Divorces

When divorcing spouses fight over assets and money, future inheritances often come up as a point of contention. Most states do not consider potential future inheritances as assets up for grabs in a divorce. However, Massachusetts takes a slightly different approach to this issue.

Under Massachusetts divorce law, a spouse's expected receipt of a future inheritance is considered a relevant factor when equitably dividing marital assets, even though the inheritance itself cannot be divided by the court. This means that if one spouse is likely to receive a large inheritance down the road, the court can take that into account when distributing marital property.

The rationale is that the spouse who stands to inherit money in the future may have less need for an equal share of the marital assets today. However, the intricacies of how this works can get complicated.

In most states, a divorcing spouse would be unsuccessful if they demanded financial records or a copy of the will of the relative expected to leave an inheritance. But in Massachusetts, because future inheritances are relevant under the law, such documents can be obtained through discovery.

This issue was addressed over 25 years ago in a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case known as Vaughan v. Vaughan. The SJC ruled that divorcing spouses can potentially subject family members to discovery when a future inheritance is at play.

The Vaughan case established the so-called "Vaughan Affidavit" as a compromise between protecting a family member's privacy and allowing discovery. Using this affidavit, a judge can order a wealthy relative to disclose their net worth, estate plan basics, and date when the plan was last updated. This avoids a deposition.

Oddly enough, Vaughan was a non-binding decision by a single SJC justice over two decades ago. Yet it still shapes how Massachusetts handles future inheritances in divorces today. The practice continues based on an old, unpublished opinion that never became official law through a published SJC ruling.

This wrinkle in Massachusetts divorce law means navigating the division of assets can become even more complicated when a future inheritance is at stake. If you find yourself in a situation where future inheritances might impact your divorce case, it's crucial to seek experienced legal counsel familiar with the intricacies of Massachusetts family law. I'm here to guide you through the complexities, offering tailored advice and representation to safeguard your interests during this challenging time.

Disclaimer: The content provided in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice and readers should not act upon any information provided without seeking professional legal counsel. The author does not guarantee the completeness or accuracy of the information provided. This blog is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.

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