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Moral of Claim Against Estate: Get Married or Get It in Writing

By Harry S. Margolis

The recent decision of the Middlesex County Superior Court in Gilda Rupprecht v. The Estate of Vincent Tamburino (No. 11-CV-0508-F, May 6, 2013) shows why paramours should either get married or make sure any promises are committed to writing.

Vincent Tamburino died in June 2010.  During his life he founded the Hillcrest Construction Company which, among other assets, owned a 51-unit apartment building in Waltham.

Gilda Rupprecht worked for Hillcrest from 1967 to 1982. During that time she and Mr. Tamburino developed a romantic relationship that lasted 45 years.  They discussed marriage by never got married. At some point while they were working together Mr. Tamburino told Ms. Rupprecht that he depended on her and that they were partners. But he never gave her a share of business.

In addition, during Mr. Tamburino’s last years, Ms. Rupprecht managed his health, “gave him his medicine, watched his diet, prepared his meals, oversaw his routine medical needs, assisted him with his hygiene and helped groom him.”

Mr. Tamburino did not leave Ms. Rupprecht anything in his estate plan nor did his family offer her anything except for a burial plot adjoining his.

Ms. Rupprect sued for compensation for the care she provided Mr. Tamburino and for an interest in the Hillcrest Corporation. Unfortunately for her, the Court here rules against her on all grounds on a motion for summary judgment. In ruling on such a motion, the Court must find, as it did here, that even if all of the facts are as Ms. Rupprecht alleges, she has not legal claim. This avoid the necessity of a full trial.

In terms of Ms. Rupprecht’s claim that she should be paid for the care she provided Mr. Tamburino, absent a written contract she is seeking “quantum meruit,” which is a claim for the value of the services she provided. However, even a quantum meruit claim requires at least an implied agreement to pay, the claim going to the value of the services provided. In this case, Ms. Rupprecht acknowledged “that this expectation existed neither in her mind, nor in the eyes of Mr. Tamburino.”

Turning to the claim for an interest in the business, as described by Ms. Rupprecht, back in the 1970s Mr. Tamburino made a promise to include her in his will. However, as explained by the Court, “[a] plaintiff cannot recover upon an oral contract to leave a testamentary provision in the face of the statute of frauds.”  The “statute of frauds” is a doctrine that certain contracts or agreements, such as an agreement to make a bequest, must be in writing.

So, Ms. Rupprecht is out of luck despite a 45-year relationship with Mr. Tamburino. It certainly makes one wonder why he failed to include her in his estate plan, which apparently was a rude surprise. But it should be a warning for anyone relying on an oral promise — get it in writing!

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