PROVINCETOWN — The history of the Roach family in Provincetown dates back to 1899 when Alexander Roach Sr. purchased property at 24 Conwell St. for $65. In January of this year, the property was sold by Katherine Terrell and her brother, Edward Lawrence Smith, who were designated as heirs by the court in 2022, to Thomas Tannariello for $2.5 million.
Now, two other Roach family members are claiming things shouldn’t have happened that way: James Roach and Margaret (Roach) Watts say they are the true inheritors of the family’s estate, not Terrell and Smith.
They have asked Barnstable Probate Court to set aside the designated heirs and issue an order redetermining who inherits the estate. The court has set a hearing on the challenge for Oct. 27.
Roach and Watts are the children of Alexander Roach Jr., who was the youngest son of Margaret Bryan and Alexander Roach Sr., the original owners of the Conwell Street property. They are first cousins of Sherrill Watkins, the Roach descendant who owned 24 Conwell St. when he died in March 2022. He did not have a will.
Following Watkins’s death, Katherine Terrell petitioned the court to declare that Watkins died without a will, to determine that she and her brother were the heirs, and to appoint her as “personal representative,” giving her authority to distribute his estate.
Terrell and Smith claim they are the children of Watkins’s only sibling, Peril Peter Watkins, who died in 1976, before Sherrill Watkins inherited the property. Sherrill Watkins had no children.
The court issued the requested decree and appointment in July 2022, and Terrell and Smith are currently listed as sole heirs of the estate.
At the turn of the 20th century, Alexander Roach Sr. and his wife, Margaret, raised five children, Nathan, Douglass, Edward, Alexander Jr., and Ethel Louise, at their Conwell Street home. Their firstborn, Fannie, died of meningitis at 10 months.
The property, which includes the main house and some rental cottages, remained in the family and served as a home and a source of income for some of the descendants for the next several decades.
By the 1990s, Ethel and Alexander Jr. were the last two of Margaret and Alexander’s children still living. Each owned half of the Conwell Street property and lived there until they died.
Ethel left her half of the estate to her only surviving son, Sherrill Watkins. Alexander Jr. left his half to his six children, making their individual shares equal to 1/12 of the whole, only 4,138 square feet. In Provincetown, buildable lots must be at least 5,000 square feet.
In 2001, Sherrill Watkins bought out his cousins’ shares in the property through a court action, saying he had been paying the taxes and bills for 24 Conwell for several years. He became the sole owner of the property.
It was after Watkins’s death in 2022 that the court gave Katherine Terrell authority to distribute his estate.
In their affidavits of objection filed this summer, Watts and Roach claim that Terrell and her brother incorrectly identified themselves as Watkins’s sole heirs.
According to the court filings, attorney Gillian Szlachetka Dubay, representing Watts and Roach, notified Terrell’s attorney in March 2023 about her clients’ interest in Watkins’s estate.
Dubay then secured the birth certificates of Terrell and her brother from Terrell’s attorney. In the affidavits filed in July, Watts and Roach say those birth certificates, which are not part of the available court documents, dispute “the genealogical relation” of Terrell and her brother to Sherrill Watkins and “disprove” their interest in his estate.
Watts and Roach claim Terrell’s court submission naming her and her brother as sole heirs “is incorrect and not complete” under Massachusetts law. They are asking for their contentions to be “the subject of a trial on the facts.”
On Oct. 6, Terrell’s attorney, James Knudsen, filed a motion asking the probate court to strike the objections from Watts and Roach and to dismiss Watts’s petition to be appointed personal representative to oversee the estate. Knudsen also asked the court to prohibit Watts and Roach “from attempting to put before this court information or evidence which is clearly inadmissible under statutory and case law.”
Terrell’s attorney argued that the probate court entered a finding on July 11, 2022 that Watkins left no valid will, along with a determination that Terrell and her brother were the heirs. The action by the court is final, he said.
A petition to vacate the court decree has not been filed, Knudsen said, and can no longer be filed because state law requires such action to be taken within 12 months of the court’s decision. The attorney went on to say that a legal notice had been published in the Cape Cod Times in June 2022, prior to the court’s decree regarding the estate.
Separate notice had not been provided to Watts and Roach because they weren’t identified as heirs. But Knudsen argued that James Roach would have been aware of Terrell’s appointment to oversee the estate since he and a companion were living free of charge on the Conwell Street property in July 2022.
The attorney provided a letter sent by his firm to Roach saying he was illegally occupying the property and ordering him to leave. The Housing Court finalized the eviction a few months later.
In a phone interview on Oct. 21, Watts, a Randolph resident, said she doesn’t live on Cape Cod.
“I have my own life here,” she said. “Things were happening I was unaware of.”
James Roach could not be reached for comment.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article, published in print on Oct. 26, incorrectly identified the brother of Katherine Terrell. He is Edward Lawrence Smith, not David Lawrence Smith.