In early May 2012 the California Court of Appeal recognized the tort of Intentional Interference with an Expected Inheritance. The case is important because it provides a remedy to unrelated persons who by fraud or other tortious means were intentionally prevented from receiving an inheritance.
IT'S OFF TO THE RACES FOR THE TORT OF INTERFERENCE WITH AN EXPECTED INHERITANCE
California has previously not recognized the tort of Intentional Interference with an Expected Inheritance (IIEI). The case of Beckwith v. Dahl (filed May 3, 2012) decided by the California Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal brings California into line with validating a tort that the United States Supreme Court has noted was "widely recognized." The IIEI cause of action provides a potential remedy to individuals who are not creditors of an estate and have no intestate rights to pursue third parties who intentionally interfered with an inheritance expectancy.
THE FIVE DISTINCT ELEMENTS OF THE TORT OF INTERFERENCE WITH AN EXPECTED INH
The California Appellate Court identified five distinct elements that make up the tort of IIEI. 1. The plaintiff must plead that he had an expectancy of the inheritance. He does not have to allege that he was named as a beneficiary in the will. 2. The plaintiff must plead causation. "There must be proof amounting to a reasonable degree of certainty that the bequest or devise would have been in effect at the time of death of the testator . . . if there had been no such interference." 3. The plaintiff must plead intent. The defendant must have had knowledge of the plaintiff's expectancy of inheritance and took deliberate action to interfere with it. 4. The underlying conduct must be wrong for some reason other than the interference. The defendant's "tortious conduct must have induced or caused the testator to take some action that deprives the plaintiff of his expected inheritance." 5. The plaintiff must plead that he was damaged by the defendant's interference.
MAKING HISTORY: THE TORT OF INTERFERENCE WITH AN EXPECTED INHERITANCE
The Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal made history by recognizing the otherwise "widely recognized" tort. That said the Court addressed public policy concerns that the action could "flood the courts with litigation" and would be "impractical to administer." The Court's words well summarize and address the concerns. "'Indubitably juries and trial courts, constantly called upon to distinguish the frivolous from the substantial and the fraudulent from the meritorious, reach erroneous results. But such fallibility, inherent in the judicial process, offers no reason for substituting for the case-by-case resolution of causes an artificial and indefensible barrier. Courts not only compromise their basic responsibility to decide the merits of each case individually but destroy the public's confidence in them by using the broad broom of 'administrative convenience' to sweep away a class of claims a number of which are admittedly meritorious."