Court Opinion Likely to Increase Trust & Estate Litigation

The California Court of Appeals has recognized a new tort cause of action in a decision that is likely to increase the amount of litigation related to trusts and estates.  Heirs can now sue beneficiaries for “Intentional Interference with Expected Inheritance” in California.  This is different from a Will Contest where an heir is contesting a Will and seeking action from the Probate Court. In this new cause of action, the plaintiff (heir) is seeking money damages personally from the defendant in litigation that does not impact the probate process.

In Beckwith v. Dahl (2012) 205 Cal. App. 4th 1039, the Court applied the principals of the new tort to a same sex couple.  Because under current California law same sex couples are not legally allowed to marry and had not registered as domestic partners, the Decedent’s partner was not protected by virtue of his status in an intestate estate.  In order to establish a right to recovery, Plaintiff must show the following:  (1) an expectation of receiving an inheritance; (2) intentional interference with that expectancy by a third party; (3) the interference was independently wrongful; (4) there was a reasonable certainty that but for the interference the plaintiff would have received the inheritance; and (5) damages.  It is important to note that this claim can only be made once the party from whom the inheritance is expected has died.