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;
- Intentional 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
Real World Example of Tortious Interference with an Expected Inheritance:
An illustration of what tortious interference would look like could be called the “evil stepmother” scenario:
Allison’s Dad is an alcoholic and his health is degrading. Due to his constant intoxication, he is easily influenced and dependent on others to take care of him. Marilyn, Dad’s wife and Allison’s stepmom, is usually the one taking care of Dad. Since Marilyn sees Dad’s health declining, she starts trying to negatively influence his idea of his daughter, Allison. Although dad had intended to leave a portion of his estate to Allison, and told several people of this plan, Marilyn’s influence has made him decide to change his estate documents. In the end Marilyn succeeds and is able to make herself the sole beneficiary and kick Allison off the estate entirely.
This is a real-world example. It’s pretty clear that Dad was influenced due to his mental incapacity and Dad had made his intentions to leave Allison a portion of his estate clear as well. In all this would be pretty strong evidence that (1) Allison expected the inheritance, (2) there was intentional interference through undue influence by Marilyn, in Dad’s vulnerable state, (3) this intentional interference caused Dad to remove Allison from the estate completely, and finally (4) Allison is likely entitled to compensatory damages for the value of the estate she was expected to receive.