Personal injury, otherwise known as “tort,” claims are typically successful only if the complaining individual has suffered an injury-in-fact. Essentially this means that courts will only award damages to persons who have truly been injured—be it physically, financially or, in rare cases, psychologically. In tort law, if you think you will suffer an injury next week an attorney will tell you to call them after you suffer your misfortune, but not before. In many ways this can be unfair, but this policy keeps the courts from being overrun with people suing for injuries that could/might/maybe/we think will happen and never do.
California’s policy against litigating future harm may be shifting, however. In Beckwith v. Dahl, an Orange County Court of Appeal recently determined that California courts can and will recognize the claim of Intentional Interference with an Expected Inheritance (IIEI). In order to recover damages, the claiming party has to prove five specific things:
- That there was an expectancy of an inheritance,
- There was reasonably certain proof that the will or trust that would benefit the claimant would have been in effect when the giver died if there had not been an interference,
- That the inter-meddling third party knew that the claimant expected the inheritance and deliberately interfered,
- That the third party’s interference was “independently tortious” (fraud is a good example), and
- Finally, that the claimant was damaged by the third party’s interference.
Although the elements look simple enough, the damaged party will recover if, and only if, each and every element is satisfied. Additionally, the jury has to be convinced that these elements exist and the jury must find that the deceased property owner didn’t change his mind at the last minute. Parties who have suffered or feel cheated out of their inheritance should rejoice that they have a new avenue to get what they rightfully deserve.
However, it should be noted that a party cannot successfully file a claim for IIEI in civil court if their issue could be remedied at probate court. This issue, like most estate planning issues, can be complicated and difficult to address without the aid of an attorney. If you have questions about your rights in an estate planning matter, the attorneys at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri have years of experience handling complex estate planning matters including wills and living trusts. Or, if you are interested in developing your own estate plan or reviewing a currently-existing estate plan, contact the attorneys at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri for further information or to set up a free consultation.
Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.
*See Beckwith v. Dahl (2012) 205 Cal.App.4th 1039.