October 21, 2020

Intentional Interference with an Expected Inheritance

A California Court of Appeal decision in 2012 was the first to recognize in this state the tort of intentional interference with an expected inheritance ("IIEI"). Beckwith v. Dahl (2012) 205 CA4th 1309.  

The Court required a showing of the following five elements: (1) an expectancy of an inheritance, (2) the plaintiff would have received the inheritance but for the defendant's wrongdoing, (3) there was intent on the defendant's part, (4) the conduct in question  must be wrong for some reason other than the fact of the interference and (5) the defendant caused the plaintiff damages.

I remember reading this decision in 2012 and wondering what kind of fact-pattern would give rise to an IIEI claim. Well a recent appellate decision provided such an example.........

Gomez v. Smith, (2020) ____ CA4th _____.

"Frank Gomez and plaintiff Louise Gomez rekindled their love late in life, over 60 years after Frank broke off their first engagement because he was leaving to serve in the Korean War. Frank's children from a prior marriage, defendants Tammy Smith and Richard Gomez, did not approve of their marriage. After Frank fell ill, he attempted to establish a new living trust with the intent to provide for Louise during her life. Frank's illness unfortunately progressed quickly. Frank's attorney, Erik Aanestad, attempted to have Frank sign the new living trust documents the day after Frank was sent home under hospice care. Aanestad unfortunately never got the chance to speak with Frank because Tammy and Richard intervened and precluded Aanestad from entering Frank's home. Frank, who was bedridden, died early the following morning. 

Louise sued Tammy and Richard for intentional interference with expected inheritance, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and elder abuse. Tammy filed a cross-complaint against Louise for recovery of trust property. Following a court trial, the trial court issued a statement of decision finding in favor of Louise as to her intentional interference with expected inheritance cause of action and in favor of Tammy and Richard as to the remaining causes of action. The trial court also ruled against Tammy on her cross-complaint. Tammy appeals the judgment in favor of Louise; she does not appeal the trial court's ruling with regard to her cross-complaint. Richard did not file a notice of appeal."

In my career, I've been asked to do in-person visits (pre-Covid in case you are wondering). I can think of maybe two home visits over the years. Fortunately I was never confronted by a disgruntled relative at the doorstep who essentially blocked me from meeting with my clients.