This article provides a basic overview of the cause of action of tortious interference with an expected inheritance in the United States. This type of claim may be of interest to those involved in a dispute over a decedent's will or trust.
If you are an heir or beneficiary and did not receive the inheritance or gift you anticipated, you may be very upset to learn that estate or trust property went to someone else. In the most common types of Will and Trust Disputes, the decedent favored one sibling or legal heir over another or singled out one favorite family member to receive the bulk of their estate. However, the
of an estate are sometimes surprised to learn their expected inheritance was actually left to a third party that is not related in any way to the family. For example, if the testator was of advanced age and relied heavily on a caregiver, friend, neighbor or another person in whom they placed their trust, the testator may have wanted to leave their property to this person. An heir that is disinherited in these circumstances may suspect the testator was influenced or pressured to change their estate planning documents or make inter vivos gifts to the influencer. Clever manipulators may see an opportunity to take advantage of an elderly person with diminished capacity or illnesses that make them more susceptible to influence or pressure from a person they trust. Related issues include: dementia and wills.In some cases, inter vivos gifts will be made to this person while the testator is alive while in other cases the changes to a will or trust are not revealed until after the testator dies. When the final disposition of the decedent's estate is ultimately revealed, the legal heir that expected an inheritance may feel they would have received the inheritance they were expecting, but for the interference of the person that inherited it instead. In legal terms, heirs and beneficiaries in this situation may believe the person that received the inheritance they were expecting committed intentional interference with an expected inheritance. It sounds unusual, but this is a tort in some states. In other states, this type of claim cannot be brought because it is not recognized by state law. This is not a valid cause of action in some states. Consult a lawyer for information on state laws that may apply to your situation.To learn more about claims to set aside transfers made by a will or trust, review the Pennyborn.com overview of
Contesting a Will. These types of lawsuits may also involve codicils to a will or amendments to a trust.
Filing a Claim for Intentional Interference with an Expected Inheritance
Intentional interference with expected inheritance is a cause of action this is not recognized in some states. Even if your lawsuit can be brought in a jurisdiction that recognizes intentional interference with expected inheritance as a valid cause of action, your claim must meet all the elements that are required under applicable state laws. The required elements for this type of claim vary depending on the jurisdiction, but may include for example: a. the plaintiff actually had an expectancy of inheritance; b. the plaintiff has damages; c. the defendant knew the plaintiff had an expectancy of inheritance; and d. the defendant engaged in conduct that interfered with the plaintiff's inheritance.In order to bring this type of action, it is usually necessary to show the defendant engaged in an intentional act or acted intentionally to prevent the plaintiff from receiving the gift or inheritance. Common examples of conduct by a defendant in these types of cases include misappropriation, fraud, misrepresentation, duress, and undue influence. A claim for intentional interference with inheritance is also sometimes filed with related types of claims such as breach of fiduciary duty and conversion.To prevail in a claim for intentional interference with inheritance, the person bringing the claim may also be required to show they would have received the inheritance if the defendant had not engaged in the tortious interference. The elements of a claim for interference with inheritance as set forth in common law can be very different from one jurisdiction to another.The laws in some states may not allow a claim for intentional interference with inheritance when the plaintiff could obtain a remedy in probate. Depending on applicable state laws, if the person bringing the claim has an available remedy in probate, they may not be able to assert a tort claim for interference with expected inheritance. To the extent the estate assets can be fairly distributed as part of a probate proceeding, there may be no cause of action for interference with an expectancy of inheritance or gift.To assert a claim based on a testamentary expectancy, the plaintiff may need to put forth evidence the testator or decedent expressed an intent to leave a bequest to the plaintiff or otherwise provide something to the plaintiff. The elements required to successfully assert this type of claim vary depending on state laws.If you intend to take legal action over a gift, inheritance or any property related to an estate or trust, one generally must act promptly. Claims may be time barred if not filed within required deadlines.Only a licensed attorney can explain what types of causes of action and remedies may be available to you in any will or trust dispute or other legal situation. If you have legal questions or concerns about your inheritance rights or any related type of issue, consult a probate lawyer or an attorney familiar with the laws applicable to wills, trusts, and estates.If you suspect a relative, caregiver, advisor or friend of the testator is engaging in wrongful or malicious behavior with intent to obtain property or assets from the testator's estate, you may also want to learn more about
Remedies for Intentional Interference with an Expected Inheritance
The remedies available for the tort of intentional interference with an expected inheritance will typically depend on state laws, the facts of the case, and other factors. Examples of the types of remedies that may be available include the imposition of a
constructive trust and damages.This type of claim is sometimes filed along with a request for an accounting of assets in the estate or trust. See
Trust Accounting. If you believe you have a claim for intentional interference with inheritance, consult a lawyer about the remedies that may be available in the jurisdiction where the lawsuit will be filed.
Copyright 2020 Pennyborn.com. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Published September 25, 2019. Updated February 28, 2020.
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