MA SJC Interprets Spousal Elective Share

Susan Ciani v. Brenda MacGrath & others (SJC-12531) 

January 8, 2019. 

 Last week, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts issued its decision in Ciani v. MacGrath & others, SJC-12531 interpreting section 15 of chapter 191 which allows a surviving spouse to waive his or her claims provided under the deceased spouse’s will. In effecting such a waiver under section 15, the surviving spouse becomes entitled to a portion of the entire estate, the size of which is dependent on whether the deceased spouse left issue. Section 15 provides a limitation when a surviving spouse waives the provisions of a will and will receive real and personal property exceeding $25,000, then he or she will only be entitled to income derived from the excess amount of the estate which they are entitled to. The court’s interpretation, in the opinion written by Justice Cypher, determined that the language of section 15 “reduces [the surviving spouse’s] interest in the real property from outright ownership to a life estate.” In the case before the court, the testator had not made any provision for his surviving spouse in the will and she timely claimed her elective share. She petitioned for the partition of real estate and was deemed to have standing as a life tenant following her claim under section 15. As such, the surviving spouse is entitled to compensation for her interest in any real estate sold. 

Read the full opinion here.