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Spinnato v. Goldman

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 19, 2014

JAMES SPINNATO, Plaintiff,
v.
MARTIN C. GOLDMAN, Defendant

Page 458

For James Spinnato, Plaintiff: Timothy J. Perry, LEAD ATTORNEY, Perry, Krumsiek & Dolan LLP, Boston, MA.

For Martin C. Goldman, Defendant: George A. Berman, Peabody & Arnold LLP, Boston, MA; Sherry Y. Mulloy, Peabody & Arnold, LLP, Boston, MA.

Page 459

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Patti B. Saris, Chief United States District Judge.

Plaintiff James Spinnato is the heir and former co-executor of the estate of Winnie Ansin, an elderly widow he befriended more than a decade before her death. Martin C. Goldman was Ansin's estate attorney and is currently the co-executor of her estate. Spinnato alleges that Goldman encouraged Ansin's relatives to file suit

Page 460

against him for undue influence, despite repeatedly assuring Spinnato that Ansin's estate planning documents were valid and his relationship with her was proper. Spinnato asserts claims for breach of fiduciary duties, fraudulent misrepresentation, tortious interference with the expectancy of a gift, and contribution. He seeks $300,000 in damages. Goldman has moved to dismiss. After a hearing, the motion to dismiss is ALLOWED in part and DENIED in part.

ALLEGED FACTS

The complaint alleges the following facts, some of which are disputed.

I. Estate Planning of Winnie Ansin

Winnie R. Ansin, a Massachusetts widow, was a client of Goldman's from about 1995 until her death in 2011. Goldman, who resides in Massachusetts, is an attorney with a practice focusing on probate and estate administration. Goldman prepared a Last Will and Testament for Ansin, which she signed and he notarized on August 29, 1995. The heirs listed in that will were Runnae Spriggs, Kathy Cash, Patti Harrison, Sydney Marie Cash, Charles Waldrop, Harold Cash, James Cash, and David Cash. All were Ansin's distant relatives, and all but Waldrop lived in Texas and did not regularly see or contact Ansin during the last twenty years of her life.

Spinnato, who resides in New Hampshire, met Ansin in 1998, and they became friends soon afterward. Both considered the relationship akin to mother and son, and they would remain friends until Ansin's death. The two frequently met for coffee and regularly shared meals, and Spinnato sometimes ran errands for Ansin such as grocery shopping. Around April 2000, Ansin moved to Brooksby Village, an assisted living facility in Peabody, Massachusetts, with Spinnato's help.

Ansin introduced Spinnato to Goldman, her estate planning attorney, in 2005. Spinnato and Goldman met each other five or six times over the years, and Goldman was always cordial and stated his belief that Spinnato was Ansin's best friend. He never mentioned believing that their relationship was improper. Goldman told Spinnato that Ansin had expressed a wish to give Spinnato the bulk of her assets either upon her death or prior to it through the use of joint accounts, and indicated that he approved of Ansin's plan.

In 2006, Ansin sought Goldman's services to change her estate plan to reflect her relationship with Spinnato. On March 29, 2006, she executed a First Codicil to her will and a Durable Power of Attorney in favor of Spinnato. Goldman drafted and notarized both documents. The codicil made Spinnato and Goldman co-executors of Ansin's estate, and made Spinnato a major heir of the estate. The codicil changed several bequests, including providing that Spinnato and another friend of Ansin's, Josephine Pucillo, would receive the $200,000 apartment deposit Ansin had given to Brooksby Village. Goldman told Spinnato that both documents reflected Ansin's true intent, and never suggested that Ansin was incompetent or subject to undue influence. Subsequently, Ansin and Spinnato relied on Goldman's representations about the validity of the documents to conduct their estate and long-term financial planning.

Beginning in May 2007, with the advice and assistance of legal counsel, her financial adviser, and a social worker at Brooksby Village, Ansin began the process of transferring four assets to Spinnato outside of probate: the Brooksby Village deposit, a Salem Five account, an Eastern Bank account, and a Hartford Annuity/UBS

Page 461

Investment account. Ansin made Spinnato a joint owner of the two bank accounts, and executed a transfer-on-death agreement for the UBS investment account instructing that upon her death Waldrop should receive 30 percent of the account and Spinnato should receive 70 percent. The transfers were executed with the proper formalities.

On January 24, 2008, Ansin executed a Second Codicil to her will which made Spinnato the sole beneficiary of the Brooksby Village deposit and removed Pucillo as a beneficiary. Goldman drafted and notarized the codicil, and indicated that there was nothing improper about the change. He was also aware of the transfer agreements that had been executed for the Salem Five and Eastern Bank accounts, and indicated to Spinnato and Ansin that those transfers were legal and proper.

Between 2008 and 2011, Spinnato and Ansin continued their friendship, and Goldman occasionally checked in with Ansin regarding her estate planning. ...


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