I continue to be amazed by the distinguished group of divorce and probate lawyers I have the privilege to work with at Burns & Levinson. Today’s decision on Pfannenstiehl v. Pfannenstiehl, a case which will guide family financial planning across the country, is a credit to their hard work and dedication. We’re proud to bring you part two of this story which our contributor Tiffany Bentley brought to our attention back in April. This case was deemed “unwinnable” by many, so it is hugely important to our client as well as a celebrated achievement for our team.
Almost exactly four months ago, I blogged with great pride about the compelling arguments from my colleague, Bob O’Regan, to the Supreme Judicial Court in the matter of Pfannenstiehl v. Pfannenstiehl. Today, I blog with even greater pride about the SJC’s unanimous decision in our client’s favor.
In Pfannenstiehl, initially both the Trial Court and the Appeals Court went to great lengths to ensure that the wife would benefit from an irrevocable trust established by her (now former) husband’s father. The husband had no access to or control over the trust. Assets and income were held for the benefit of the children, grandchildren, and more remote descendants of the husband’s father; 11 beneficiaries in total at the time of trial. Distributions to any one or more of the beneficiaries could be made only in the discretion of the trustees. Still, the Trial Court determined, and the Appeals Court affirmed, that the husband’s interest in the trust was subject to valuation and division as a marital asset. The Trial Court further determined, and the Appeals Court affirmed, that the wife was entitled to receive 60% of the value of the husband’s interest. The husband was ordered to make 24 monthly payments of $48,699.77 to the wife to buy out her share. Keep in mind that the husband had no right to access or demand funds from the trust itself to make these payments.