California Appeals Court Validates Intentional Interference with an Expected Inheritance

8:31 pm Asset Protection, Estate Planning, Probate, Wills

will4 150x150 California Appeals Court Validates Intentional Interference with an Expected InheritanceA California appeals court has ruled that intentional interference with an expected inheritance is a valid cause of action in Beckwith v. Dahl, becoming the first California Court of Appeal to do so.

In the case, a dying man named Marc MacGinnis drafted a will that left half his estate to his partner, Brent Beckwith, and half to his sister, Susan Dahl.  MacGinnis drafted the will on his personal computer and showed the draft to Beckwith.  While seriously ill and awaiting surgery, MacGinnis instructed Beckwith to print out the will so he could sign it.  Beckwith could not find the will, so he drafted a new one using online forms.  Beckwith then showed the draft will to Dahl.  Dahl, who knew that absent this new will she would inherit the entire estate, told Beckwith not to have MacGinnis sign the will and that she would instead have an attorney draft a more tax-advantaged trust.  Dahl never had the trust drawn, and MacGinnis died a few days later.  Because MacGinnis died with no will, Dahl inherited the entire estate.

Beckwith then sued Dahl for his share of the estate and citing the facts of the case, the Fourth Appellate District California Court of Appeals ruled that “it is time to officially recognize” intentional interference with an expected inheritance (IIEI).  The court laid out the five elements necessary for a plaintiff to bring a valid cause of action using IIEI:

  1. An expectation of receiving some beneficial interest via inheritance;
  2. Causation, meaning that there must be reasonable proof that the bequest would have been in effect at the testator’s death if there had not been an interference;
  3. Intent, meaning that a defendant knew of the plaintiff’s expected interest and deliberately interfered with it;
  4. The interference must be independently tortuous;
  5. The plaintiff must allege damage by wrongful interference.

The Court also set limitations on IIEI action, including that a plaintiff must have no other remedy in probate, the defendant’s tortuous action must be the reason that probate does not offer an adequate remedy, and the plaintiff must show with reasonable probability that he would have received the inheritance if there had been no interference.

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