Can I Sue Someone for Interfering With My Inheritance?
If your situation meets the required elements for a legal claim, you absolutely can.
INTENTIONAL INTERFERENCE WITH EXPECTED INHERITANCE
In California, intentionally interfering with another person’s expected inheritance is a tort (a civil wrong, which allows a person to sue another person in court, assuming the elements are met). Essentially, a claim arises when one person (the defendant) intentionally persuades or induces another person to act or not act in a way that prevents a third person (the plaintiff) of an inheritance the plaintiff otherwise reasonably expected to or should have received.
It’s important to note that not every situation in which a person fails to receive a desired or expected inheritance gives rise to a claim. A claim exists only where all of the specific elements of the tort are met.
It’s also important to realize that although the claim is brought by the (would-be) beneficiary, the tort exists primarily to protect the rights of testators and decedents to give their property to the heirs they wish to receive it. The defendant’s actions primarily harm the testator‘s rights (by wrongfully influencing the testator’s decisions about the property in his or her estate). The harm to the would-be heir(s) is a derivative, or secondary, wrong. However, the would-be heirs have the legal right to bring a claim against the wrongdoer.
WHAT ACTIONS JUSTIFY A CLAIM FOR INTENTIONAL INTERFERENCE WITH EXPECTED INHERITANCE?
A claim can arise if a testator (who may or may not be deceased)
- was induced (persuaded)
- by tortious (wrongful) means:
(a) to make or not make a will or
(b) to change, revoke, or not change or revoke an existing will or
(c) where the testator’s will is wrongfully forged, altered or hidden/suppressed.
3. the probate courts cannot provide an adequate remedy.
All of the required elements must be met for a claim to arise.
WHAT MUST A PLAINTIFF PROVE TO SUCCEED ON A CLAIM FOR INTENTIONAL INTERFERENCE WITH EXPECTED INHERITANCE?
For a claim to succeed, the plaintiff must prove:
- The Plaintiff reasonably expected to receive an inheritance
- The Defendant intentionally interfered with the Plaintiff’s expected inheritance;
- The Defendant’s acts were wrongful or tortious, independently from their impact on the inheritance;
- But for the Defendant’s interference, the Plaintiff would have received the inheritance; and
- Plaintiff suffered damages that resulted directly from the Defendant’s interference.
The Plaintiff must prove each of these elements with reasonable certainty.
We will take a closer look at these elements in the weeks to come; however, it’s important to note that “reasonable certainty” requires more than the Plaintiff’s personal, subjective opinion. Anecdotal and circumstantial evidence, while potentially admissible, generally will not suffice without some concrete evidence or proof of the Plaintiff’s claims.
If you believe you have a claim for intentional interference with expected inheritance, it’s important to consult a lawyer promptly for a thorough evaluation of your rights and potential claims.
Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON. Your legal rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal rights or claims. Consult an experienced attorney promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, potential damages, and the various legal rights and options available to you.
You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Most legal claims (and defenses), as well as legal and court procedures, are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your individual rights and claims.