Most of us can think of an instance where a loved one makes a last-minute change to their estate planning documents, leaving someone who was once a beneficiary with nothing. This can be a scary, confusing, and emotionally troubling time; especially if it seems that this change was not made as a result of the decedents own free will.
Fortunately, there is something you can do if you find that you’ve been injured by someone else’s wrongful interference with your beneficial interest. Tortious Interference with the expectancy of receiving an inheritance is a cause of action that provides redress where another individual by fraud or other wrongful conduct prevents you from receiving from a third person an inheritance you otherwise would have received.
To succeed on a claim for intentional interference with an expectancy of inheritance, you must show: (1) the existence of an expectancy; (2) intentional interference with the expectancy through tortious conduct; (3) causation; and (4) damages.
While there are many ways to prove the existence of an expectancy, one way is to provide a prior will or trust showing the person was identified as the beneficiary. The next element requires a showing that not only was the pertinent estate planning document changed, but that it was changed as a result of another’s independent tortious conduct. This means that, if a lawyer at the direction of the decedent makes changes to their will, they are not liable unless you can make a showing that the lawyer exerted an inappropriate influence on the decedent to make the change. Causation requires a showing that you would have received the gift but for the tortious interference of another. Lastly, to prove damages you must provide the court an amount that is sufficiently definite, meaning that vague statements as to the value of an inheritance one would have received is insufficient.
While this cause of action may seem right for you, it is just one of the many tools lawyers have to help protect your interests. Therefore, it is very important that one consult with an attorney before taking legal action.
By Daniel Hill, Esq.