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Don’t Just Hope for an Inheritance, Get It In Writing

By Michael J. Tucciarone

The Massachusetts Appeals Court in Cheney v. Flood (84 Mass. App. Ct. 1134, February 7, 2014) upholds a trial court’s finding that a hope or expectation of payment from an estate is not the equivalent of entitlement.

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, he left her nothing. Ms. Cheney then sued James F. Flood, Jr., both individually as her stepfather’s lawyer and as administrator of her stepfather’s estate, alleging legal malpractice and that she was entitled to recovery from the estate on the basis of quantum meruit for the reasonable value of the services she and her family performed for Mr. Turco during the last years of his life.

The judge allowed Attorney Flood’s motion to dismiss the legal malpractice count due to the lack of an attorney-client relationship between Ms. Cheney and Attorney Flood.  The judge then allowed Attorney Flood’s motion to dismiss the quantum meruit count because Ms. Cheney failed to allege that she performed services for Turco with the expectation that she would be paid for them.

Ms. Cheney appealed the summary judgment 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 finds that this gives her no legal basis for payment absent an underlying contract or agreement between the parties.  The court found that Ms. Cheney’s hope or expectation, even though well founded, is not equivalent to having either legal detriment or reliance entitling her to reasonable value of services under the legal concept of quantum meruit.

It seems that Ms. Cheney’s mistake here 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.  

Michael J. Tucciarone, a third-year law student at the New England School of Law is a law clerk with Margolis & Bloom.

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