Clymer v. Mayo
393 Mass. 754, 473 N.E.2d 1084 (1985)
Clara made her husband, Mayo,
the principle beneficiary of her will. She also made him the beneficiary
of her non-probate assets (aka retirement accounts and insurance). She
also made two inter vivos trusts.
The first trust named her
husband as the principle beneficiary and gave him the power of
appointment. It was to be funded with
everything in her will up to the limits of the marital
The rest of her estate was
to 'pour over' into the second trust. That trust gave a life estate to
her husband who could take as much as he wanted and whatever was left
over after he died went to her nephews and nieces and then to some
Neither trusts were funded
at the time they were created.
These are known as pour
over trusts because they start empty
and only get funded when money from the estate 'pours over' into them
upon the death of the settlor.
Clara and her husband got a
divorce. As part of the divorce, her husband waived all rights to Clara's
estate. Clara changed her insurance policy to benefit her friend
The husband married another
woman the day after the divorce was final!
Clara died. The administrator
of her estate (Clymer) petitioned the court asking what to do with the
The trusts had never been
dissolved, so according to the will the money should go there. But
Clara's husband had waived his rights to take the money.
The nieces and nephews
argued that if Clara's husband didn't want the money, they should get it
Clara's parents (the
Weisses) argued that since the will was frustrated, the terms were void,
so the money should go in intestate succession (aka to them).
A will can be revoked by
operation of law when the testator gets a divorce, but this was a trust, not a
The Probate Court found:
The trusts remained valid.
The husband's interest in
the first trust was terminated by the divorce, but he could still take
under the second trust.
The nieces and nephews can
take from the second trust.
The Weisses lack standing to
The Massachusetts Supreme
Court affirmed in part and reversed in part.
Weiss claimed that a valid
trust never existed because it was unfunded at creation, but the
Massachusetts Supreme Court found that wasn't a requirement since these
were pour-over trusts.
The Court agreed that the
first trust, which was designed to accommodate the marriage deduction became impossible once the divorce happened,
so it was void.
Basically, the trust was revoked
by operation of law.
The Trial Court judge had
reasoned that under Massachusetts law, a will is invalidated by a
divorce, but the second trust wasn't a will, so it should still be valid.
However, the Massachusetts Supreme Court found that in this case, the
will and the trust were two parts of a "single testamentary
scheme" and the same law that revoked the will also revoked the
trust that was to be funded by the will.
Therefore, the Trial Court
ruling that the husband was still a beneficiary of the second trust was
Basically, the Court was
saying that a trust didn't get funded until death, so the same Statute
that was used to revoke the will should also apply to the trust.
The Court also looked to
Clara's intent and found that she
intended the other beneficiaries to benefit from the second trust, so
the other parts of the second trust were still valid.
The reasoning here was
pretty shaky, but clearly the Court was trying to come up with a way to
keep Mayo's hands off the money.
The Universities stepped up
and claimed that the nephews and nieces were actually related to the
husband, not Clara, so they should not inherit (and all the money should
go to the Universities.)
In general, when there is a
revocation by operation of law
because of a divorce, the ex-spouse and all of the ex-spouse's relatives are removed
from the will, unless there is explicit contrary intent.
However, the Court found
that there was a latent ambiguities
as to who the nieces and nephews are, and brought in extrinsic evidence
to show that Clara wanted them to have the money.
Basically, this case helped to
established the concept of the revocable inter vivos trust, which is when a settlor establishes a trust during their lifetime, but
retains the option of revoking parts of that trust at any time before or
after their death.
Under the Uniform Probate
Code § 2-801, non-probate instruments
can now be revoked by operation of law in the same manner
Under this Statute, the
nephews and nieces would have lost (since they weren't related to Clara)
and the Universities would have gotten all the money.