What is Tortious Interference with an Expected Inheritance?
Tortious Interference with an Expected Inheritance occurs when someone succeeds at manipulating the assets of the decedent. In such a case, those beneficiaries of the inheritance who suffer an injury as a result of the tortious interference can bring a suit against the person who has manipulated the assets. Such conduct could include transferring money between different accounts, converting bank accounts to cash or affecting the distribution of the assets in any other way. Generally speaking, courts have condemned this conduct, as it infringes on the decedent’s right to freely distribute his assets in a manner that he sees fit. A claim of tortious interference with an expected inheritance includes conduct that constitutes duress, fraud or undue influence.
In Florida, fraud, duress, mistake, or undue influence in procuring a will is governed by Florida statute § 732.5165. Today, nearly half of the states recognize this tort cause of action, and Florida is among them.
How Do You Prove Tortious Interference with an Expected Inheritance?
To prove tortious interference with an expected inheritance, a plaintiff must allege in his complaint the following elements:
- The existence of an expectancy of the inheritance;
- International interference with the expectancy through tortious conduct;
- Causation; and
Not only is it crucial that the plaintiff prove that he has sustained damages as a result of the tortious conduct, but the plaintiff must also show the approximate amount of those damages to be granted recovery. Saewitz v. Saewitz, 79 So.3d 831 (2012). See also: Schilling v. Herrera, 952 So. 2d 1231 (2007).
What Kind of Damages Can You Get?
According to the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 774B, damages in such a case could include the compensation of the value of the inheritance not rightfully received as well as consequential damages for emotional pain and/or punitive damages.
What is the Standard of Proof?
Under state law, the plaintiff would have to meet the “clear and convincing evidence” standard to succeed in such claims. However, the majority of courts in such cases have applied the preponderance of the evidence standard. Therefore, it depends on which standard a particular court will choose to apply. John C. P. Goldberg, Torts and Estates: Remedying Wrongful Interference with Inheritance, 65 Stan. L. Rev. 335.doc376