The Aba Journal
Plotting Against Probate
Efforts by estate planners, courts and legislatures to minimize probate haven’t
killed it yet
May 2008 Issue
By Steven Seidenberg
Lawrence Moretti spent his last years lonely and afraid. Crippling arthritis kept him from
leaving his apartment in Boston’s North End. As he became unable to care for himself,
Moretti, in his late 70s, feared he would wind up in a nursing home. He had no close
relatives to turn to. Then his friends stopped visiting him, and he didn’t understand why.
There was only his live-in caregiver, Roman Pagliarani.
In December 1991, about a year after Pagliarani moved in with Moretti, the old man
signed a will that left his principal asset—a six-unit apartment building worth well over
$1 million—to his new companion.
Moretti died in 1993, at age 82. Pagliarani submitted the will for probate. But then two
close friends of Moretti’s, who had cared for him before Pagliarani moved in, asked the
court to throw out the 1991 will and to probate instead a will executed by Moretti in 1989
that left the building to them.
The legal battle raged for 14 years, going from probate court to appellate court back to
probate court and then up again on appeal. The legal fees for just one of the parties ran
into the mid-six figures.
It’s just the kind of case that causes nightmares about probate among lawyers and clients
More than ever before, clients want to do whatever they can to avoid the possibility that
their estates will be probated, says Christopher Gagic, an estate planning attorney at
Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs in Boca Raton, Fla. “I see clients insisting on a
revocable living trust just because they want to avoid probate,” he says. “They all want to
avoid probate, which seems to be a dirty word.”
Many state legislatures, too, seem to take a dim view of probate. They have enacted laws
that authorize new techniques for avoiding probate, make more estates exempt from
probate and streamline the probate process.