Intentional Interference with Expected Inheritance (IIEI)
Santa Clarita Intentional Interference with Expected Inheritance (IIEI) Lawyer
Until only recently, California law did not protect victims who lost all or part of their expected inheritances as a result of another's fraud, deception or misconduct. On May 4, 2012, that changed. For the first time, a California appellate court officially recognized a new tort—intentional interference with expected inheritance (IIEI)—to protect victims of unintended disinheritance. (See, Beckwith v. Dahl (2012) __ Cal.App.4th __ (CA Court of Appeal, 4th District, Div. 3, Case No. G044479).)
What is IIEI?
Intentional interference with expected inheritance (IIEI) is a civil tort cause of action that protects individuals and entities who have been disinherited as a result of the intentional, wrongful interference of a third party. The following are common examples:
· the wrongful alteration of another's will;
· the wrongful suppression or destruction of another's will;
· the wrongful depletion of a testator's estate, diluting an expected inheritance; and
· the wrongful inducement to execute/not execute/revoke/not revoke a will depriving the intended beneficiary of an expected inheritance.
In general, matters involving misconduct that interferes with inheritances are dealt with in the context of California's probate system. However, in certain instances, individuals may lack standing in probate because they may not technically qualify as an "interested person" under California's Probate Code.
For example, family members like surviving spouses, children, parents, etc. would have standing to seek relief in probate. But non-family members like surviving members of unmarried couples, close friends, caregivers, charitable organizations, etc. have no right to be heard in probate proceedings. Those individuals are left without any probate remedy.
Intentional interference with expected inheritance (IIEI) closes the gap by providing a legal remedy in civil court to persons who reasonably expected to receive an inheritance but who, as a result of the intentional wrongdoing of a third party, were deprived of that expectancy and who lack standing to be heard in probate court.
What are the elements of IIEI?
The Beckwith court outlined the elements that must be pleaded and proven to establish a claim for intentional interference with expected inheritance (IIEI). The court identified five (5) elements:
(1) The plaintiff must plead he or she had an expectancy of an inheritance. It is not necessary to allege that one is in fact named as a beneficiary in the will or that one has been devised the particular property at issue. That requirement would defeat the purpose of an expectancy claim. It is only the expectation that one will receive some interest that gives rise to a cause of action.
(2) The complaint must allege causation. This means that there must be proof amounting to a reasonable degree of certainty that the bequest or devise would have been in effect at the time of the death of the testator if there had been no such interference.
(3) The plaintiff must plead intent, i.e., that the defendant had knowledge of the plaintiff's expectancy of inheritance and took deliberate action to interfere with it.
(4) The complaint must allege that the interference was conducted by independently tortious means, i.e., the underlying conduct must be wrong for some reason other than the fact of the interference. The independently tortious conduct must be directed at someone other than the plaintiff. Most commonly, the misconduct is directed at the testator.
(5) The plaintiff must plead he was damaged by the defendant's interference. The value of the expected inheritance is the damage to the plaintiff.
In addition, the Beckwith court noted that in other jurisdictions IIEI claims are barred if an adequate probate remedy exists. Two years before the Beckwith decision, in
Munn v. Briggs (2010) 185 Cal.App.4th 578, another division of the fourth appellate district court declined to adopt the tort of IIEI under the circumstances because, unlike in
Beckwith, the plaintiff had an adequate remedy in probate. Therefore, it appears that if the plaintiff has standing to be heard in probate, the defendant will have an affirmative defense that will bar the plaintiff's civil claim.
Who Benefits From the New IIEI Tort?
Any person or entity that has been wrongfully deprived of a reasonably expected inheritance as a result of the wrongful interference of another may now find a remedy in civil court under a theory of IIEI, provided that there is no adequate probate remedy. Common examples involve intended beneficiaries who are not recognized family members, such as cohabitating, unmarried couples, unregistered same-sex couples, third party caregivers, charitable organizations, and even close friends of the testator.
Civil litigation practitioners and judges, as well as probate counsel judges alike, should familiarize themselves with the elements of the new IIEI tort and the analysis in Beckwith v Dahl to determine when an IIEI claim might be appropriate to pursue and to advise clients who may have an IIEI claim to prosecute or defend.
Talk to an Intentional Interference with Expected Inheritance Lawyer in Santa Clarita
Markson Pico LLP represented the plaintiff in the Beckwith v Dahl matter and successfully convinced the appellate court to officially recognize this groundbreaking new tort claim of intentional interference with expected inheritance (IIEI). Our attorneys offer the support and guidance needed to assert IIEI victim's legal rights and to help IIEI victims throughout the difficult recovery process. By consulting with a Santa Clarita intentional interference with expected inheritance (IIEI) attorney at our office, you will be taking the first step in resolving this difficult situation. Your initial consultation is free and there is no obligation.
Contact a Santa Clarita of intentional interference with expected inheritance (IIEI) lawyer at
Markson Pico LLP today for a free consultation concerning your situation.