Mass court: New law can't apply to old wills

Wednesday August 29, 2012

BOSTON (AP) -- Adopted children do not share equal footing with biological children in wills and trusts executed before 1958, the highest court in Massachusetts ruled Tuesday in a case that pitted a member of a well-known family against her two adopted brothers.

Rachel Bird Anderson asked a court to declare a 2009 amendment to the state's wills and trust law unconstitutional. That amendment said a 1958 amendment that included adopted children in the definition of "child" should be applied to all wills and trusts, no matter when they were executed.

The Supreme Judicial Court, however, ruled that the 1958 amendment cannot be applied retroactively to wills executed before then. The court said that although the 2009 amendment may have had a "laudable" public policy goal of equal treatment for adopted and biological children, there are constitutional limits on the Legislature's power to enact retroactive laws.

"We are hesitant to apply rules affecting property rights retroactively because it is likely that testators, settlors, and grantors consult with attorneys and consider the existing state of the law when deciding how to draft instruments conveying inheritances," Justice Margot Botsford wrote for the court in the unanimous ruling.


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