DOROTHY A. LEIGHTON, personal representative, 
Heard: September 7, 2018.
for adjudication of intestacy filed in the Plymouth Division
of the Probate and Family Court Department on April 29, 2015.
motion to strike an objection to a petition for an order of
complete settlement was heard by Patrick W. Stanton,
A. Tanner for the defendant.
Stephen B. Rosales (Samantha Clark also present) for the
Present: Green, C.J., Milkey, & Singh, JJ.
February 7, 2015, Bridgewater resident Robert H. Olson died
without leaving any known will. He had no surviving parents,
spouse, or children. The plaintiff, Dorothy A. Leighton, a
first cousin to Olson on his father's side, stepped
forward to claim his estate on behalf of herself and two
similarly situated relatives. During the resulting intestacy
proceedings, in which Leighton was appointed personal
representative of the estate, the defendant, Bengt Hallstrom
presented himself as a first cousin on Olson's
mother's side and sought a proportionate share. However,
the Probate and Family Court judge ultimately concluded that
Hallstrom's efforts were tardy. Ruling that
Hallstrom's claim was precluded as a matter of law, the
judge struck Hallstrom's objection to Leighton's
petition for order of complete settlement. A magistrate then
entered a final decree settling Olson's estate without
Hallstrom receiving any share. Because we agree with
Hallstrom that the judge erred in various respects, we vacate
the order allowing Leighton's motion to strike and the
final decree settling the estate, and remand for further
initiated these proceedings on April 29, 2015, by filing a
petition for formal adjudication of intestacy. See G. L. c.
190B, § 3-402. That petition also requested that
Leighton be appointed the personal representative of
Olson's estate. Leighton's petition listed
herself and two other first cousins as "all known heirs
on [Olson's] predeceased father's side." It
further stated: "It is unknown if any heirs exist on
[Olson's] predeceased mother's side and, if so, the
degree of kindred and location of such heirs." By
checking a box on the court's preprinted form, Leighton
requested that the court "[f]ormally determine [Olson]
died without a [w]ill and determine heirs."
Hallstrom comes forward.
order dated July 6, 2015, a guardian ad litem (GAL) was
appointed to represent Olson's unascertained heirs with
respect to Leighton's pending petition. Before the GAL
filed his report, Hallstrom, a resident of Uddevalla, Sweden,
stepped forward and identified himself to Leighton as an
interested person. Specifically, Hallstrom's counsel sent
Leighton's counsel a letter that included a genealogical
chart purporting to show that Hallstrom was the son of
Olson's mother's brother (and hence, a first cousin).
Using a preprinted form, Hallstrom filed a notice of
appearance, which was docketed by the court. On that form,
Hallstrom checked the box that signified that his appearance
"is NOT an objection."His counsel explained in a
contemporaneous letter to Leighton's counsel, "I
have not listed it as an objection since it is my
understanding by [sic] doing so will cause a contest
in this matter. "
The GAL's report.
having discussed the matter with both Leighton and Hallstrom,
and after having reviewed the docket and certain other
relevant documents, the GAL issued his report, which was
docketed on July 24, 2015. That report confirmed that Olson
had died intestate and urged that a personal representative
be appointed "to take control of [Olson's] real
estate and prevent waste as well as marshaling all assets of
personal property." The GAL assented to that appointment
after noting that Hallstrom -- the only additional claimant
who had surfaced -- had not objected. With respect to the key
issue of determining heirs, the GAL suggested deferring that
issue to the future, stating, "The issue of determining
heirs can be addressed during the course of handling the
The July 2015 decree.
27, 2015 - that is, three days after the GAL report was
docketed -- a magistrate acted on Leighton's pending
petition by issuing what is styled as a "decree and
order on petition for formal adjudication." That decree
(the July 2015 decree) was issued on another preprinted form.
Through the magistrate's checking the appropriate boxes,
the July 2015 decree ruled that Olson had died intestate, and
it appointed Leighton as personal representative of his
estate. With respect to the identity of Olson's heirs,
the magistrate left blank the spaces provided on ...