Is Your Inheritance Up For Grabs In A Divorce?
Jun 08, 2016 11:28AM
By Ellen Wright
In Massachusetts divorce cases, expected future property acquisitions in the form of inheritances or family trusts may be taken into consideration by the Court when dividing marital property. The law has been very well settled that “Opportunities for future acquisition of capital assets and income” are one of the factors the Court should take into consideration as under M.G.L. Ch. 208, §34.
During the divorce process, each party seeks to obtain from the other evidence of financial assets so that the Court properly takes them into consideration when determining the division of marital property. A party in a divorce case will want evidence of the other parties future interests (i.e. money or property), which may take the form of future inheritances. The private nature of these possible future interests raise a problem for parties in a divorce which is not easily dealt with without use of a common discovery tool known as the "Vaughan Affidavit."
In order to establish a balance between the privacy interest of third parties and the right of a divorcing spouse to the full disclosure of marital assets, in 1991 the Court in Vaughn v. Vaughn held that third parties have legitimate privacy interests that need to be protected while acknowledging that the Court may properly take a party’s expectancy interests into consideration when determining what disposition to make of the marital property that is subject to division. The result was the so-called Vaughan affidavit.
The Vaughan affidavit is a document supplied by the third party (usually the parents or grandparents of a divorcing spouse) in a divorce proceeding, that provides limited disclosure of the individuals financial assets, net worth, and a general description of their estate plan. The affidavit is supplied in lieu of deposing the third party. If the third parties reside in Massachusetts, they will in all likelihood confer with their own counsel once they receive the subpoena to get legal advice. Upon doing so, they will understand that they may choose to either produce the documents and/or appear for the deposition, or execute the Vaughan affidavit. When presented with these options, they will almost always choose the latter, less intrusive alternative.
The Vaughan affidavit is an important tool for lawyers practicing family law, but judges are entitled to a substantial amount of discretion when taking it into consideration. Parties in a divorce action have a right to know about substantial expectancy interests of the opposing party but the Court is mindful that a person could be dis-inherited or divested of any such interests at the sole discretion of a third party. Nonetheless, the importance of obtaining a Vaughan affidavit in a divorce action cannot be overstated where one party suspects the other of having a substantial inheritance coming their way. Taking a future interest into consideration can make a significant difference when calculating divisible marital assets and should not be overlooked.
(Atty. Ellen Wright is the Principle of Wright Family Law Group in Tewksbury. She has received multiple recognitions from her peers as being one of the top Family Law Attorneys in Massachusetts. She can be reached through her Website at http://www.wrightfamilylawgroup.com or by phone at 978-851-2291)