Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Unwilled Unmarried

The host of a great classical-music radio show screwed up at death. In the no-common-law-marriage Massachusetts, he died without a will. His significant other, who would have been a common-law wife in many states, is having to fight his siblings for a piece of the estate.

Those who know WGBH-FM's Morning Pro Musica understand the maddeningly distracting speech patterns of Robert J. (two second pause) Lurtsema. He (three second pause) diedin2000 (two second pause) butleftno (four second pause) will.

His long-term partner and assistant, Betsy Northrup, fully expected the $536,000 Wellesley house and some cash. She and Lurtsema had been companions from 1982. He convinced her to move in with him full time in 1997, where she cared for him as his sight failed from macular degeneration and he sickened and eventually died from pulmonary fibrosis. She also edited his books for publication and transcribed his music.

While she and his siblings were buddies when he was alive, his intestate death -- and the related money it seems -- changed that. His mom died shortly after he did, and the siblings said all the leavings where theirs. So there.

The lawyer representing siblings Jacqueline MacLennan, David Lurtsema and Lorraine Nordlinger is Normal I. Jacobs. He claims the jury will give everything to them and tell Betsy tough luck. "The law in Massachusetts is very clear that the fact that you live with somebody 50 years doesn't give you legal rights. We don't have common-law marriage here, and our courts have never said that we do."

However, the commonwealth does recognize oral contracts. Northrup hopes to convince the jury that Robert J. promised her the house and that "he intended to provide for me for the rest of my life, and I had nothing to worry about." That was from her disposition.

She sued for her share in 2001, lost the initial action and had that overturned by the Appeals Court. The messy matter goes to a jury trial.

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