Legal Memorandum: Authorization of Severance Pay in MA

Issue: Do courts in Massachusetts allow for authorization of severance pay where a caretaker has been paid for the services rendered to the decedent and the will does not authorize additional severance pay?

Area of Law: Estate Planning & Probate
Keywords: Severance pay; Caretakers
Jurisdiction: Massachusetts
Cited Cases: 63 N.E.2d 354; 45 N.E.2d 373; 425 N.E.2d 369; 398 N.E.2d 745; 169 N.E.2d 899
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 09/01/2000

           No Massachusetts cases were found that permitted an executor of an estate to give caretakers severance pay from the proceeds of an estate where the will did not specifically authorize such pay.  Cases involving caretakers usually involve an oral promise by the employer to devise property to the caretaker in return for services to be performed by the caretaker. Although an oral agreement to make a will is generally unenforceable under the statute of frauds, the courts allow the caretaker to recover in quantum meruit for the value of the services performed during the decedent’s lifetime in order to prevent the statute from being used as an instrument of fraud.  Turner v. White, 329 Mass. 549, 109 N.E.2d 155, 157-58 (1952); Hollister v. Old Colony Trust Co., 328 Mass. 225, 102 N.E.2d 770, 772 (1952); Downey v. Union Trust Co., 312 Mass. 405, 45 N.E.2d 373, 377 (1942); D’Ambrosio v. Rizzo, 12 Mass. App. Ct. 926, 425 N.E.2d 369, 370 (1981); Hastoupis v. Gargas, 9 Mass. App. Ct. 27, 398 N.E.2d 745, 750 (1980).  Damages for the reasonable value of the caretaker’s services are premised on the principles of restitution, requiring the estate to pay a amount equal to the benefits conferred upon the decedent in order to prevent unjust enrichment to the decedent.  Hatoupis, 398 N.E.2d at 750. 

Hastoupis is typical of such cases.  There the plaintiff (a baker and a nurse) moved his family into […]

Subscribe to Litigation Pathfinder

To get the full-text of this Legal Memorandum ... and more!

(Month-to-month and annual subscriptions available)