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Biddle Law Estate Planning Blog

Monday, October 23, 2017

Tortious Interference with an Expectation of Inheritance

When a relative passes, you often expect that you will obtain some type of inheritance after their passing, particularly if it is a parent or spouse. Perhaps, for example, your mother has already talked to you about your inheritance, or you know that a particular bank account has been left for you.

You may be shocked to learn that someone else has influenced your loved one so that your planned inheritance has been altered significantly compared to what you were expecting. In those situations, you may actually be able to assert a legal claim against someone who may have purposefully changed your inheritance rights.

Intentional Interference with Expected Inheritance (IIEI)

In 2012, California joined the majority of states in creating a tort that involves an expected inheritance. You have a claim against anyone who “intentionally and wrongfully” interfered with your expected inheritance.

In the 2012 case that established this tort, Beckwith v. Dahl, a same-sex couple had been in a relationship for approximately ten years. One member of the pair, Marc, passed away. Marc told his partner, Brent, that he had a will that left half of his assets to Brent and the other half to his sister, Susan, before he passed. However, they could not locate the will. Marc had intended to re-draft the will with the same provisions, but he, unfortunately, died before he could do so.

After Marc passed, Susan told Brent that there was no need to file a probate action, and so Brent took no action regarding Marc’s estate. Then, Susan petitioned to open a probate action herself and did not name Brent as an interested party. Because Brent and Marc were not married and Susan was Marc’s only living relative, she then took all of Marc’s estate, regardless of the fact that she knew of Marc’s wishes regarding his estate before his death.

Once Brent found out what Susan had done, he sued for her deceitful actions. One of his claims was for Intentional Interference with Expected Inheritance (IIEI). That claim was summarily dismissed as California had never before recognized that cause of action. The appellate court reversed and determined that IIEI actions would be valid in California.

Elements of an IIEI Claim

IIEI claims can be difficult to establish because they have so many requirements. Every claim for IIEI must include the following items.

  • The plaintiff expected to receive an inheritance
  • There was an intentional interference with that expectancy by someone other than the decedent
  • The opposing party’s interference was wrongful
  • The wrongful activity was directed at the decedent
  • There was a reasonable certainty that the plaintiff would have received the inheritance but for the wrongdoer’s actions
  • The plaintiff has no other remedies at law
  • The plaintiff sustained damages

Those who assert IIEI claims are often unmarried, same-sex partners, step-children, and some unmarried heterosexual partners. Nonetheless, anyone can bring an IIEI if he or she meets the above elements.

If you believe that someone has interfered with your inheritance rights, asserting an IIEI claim may be a good idea. You may have other legal options as well. Contact us today to discuss your potential legal remedies.


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