Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sullivan v. Burkin case brief

Sullivan v. Burkin case brief summary
460 N.E.2d 572 (1984)

Plaintiff widow exercised her right, under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 191, § 15, to take a share of her husband's estate. She sought a determination that assets held in an inter vivos trust created by her husband during the marriage should be considered as part of the estate in determining that share. The probate court dismissed the complaint. The widow appealed. A panel of the Appeals Court (Massachusetts) reported the case to the court.


The widow's claim was that the inter vivos trust was an invalid testamentary disposition and that the trust assets constituted assets of the estate.


  • The court concluded that the trust was not testamentary in character and that the husband effectively created a valid inter vivos trust. 
  • The assets of the inter vivos trust were not to be considered in determining the portion of the estate of the deceased in which the widow had rights. 
  • The surviving spouse was denied any claim against the assets of a valid inter vivos trust created by the deceased spouse, even where the deceased spouse alone retained substantial rights and powers under the trust instrument. 
  • For the future, however, as to any inter vivos trust created or amended after the date of the opinion, the estate of a decedent, for the purposes of § 15, was to include the value of assets held in an inter vivos trust created by the deceased spouse as to which the deceased spouse alone retained the power during his or her life to direct the disposition of those trust assets for his or her benefit. 
  • The widow here obtained no right to share in the assets of that trust when she made her election under § 15.


The court affirmed the judgment of the probate court dismissing the widow's complaint.

Suggested Study Aids For Wills, Trusts & Estate Law

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