Cal Court Recognizes Tortious Interference with Inheritance

By Robyn Hagan Cain on May 10, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

California’s Fourth Appellate District recognized the tort of intentional interference with an expected inheritance (IIEI) last week, joining the majority of other states in recognizing the tort of IIEI as a valid cause of action.

In addition to expanding California’s tort causes of action to include IIEI, the court outlined the components of an IIEI claim.

In the case, Beckwith v. Dahl, plaintiff Brent Beckwith accused his partner's sister of lying to him about her intention to prepare a living trust, so as to delay the matter until after a risky surgery in order to inherit the entire estate.

Beckwith and his partner, Marc Christian MacGinnis, were in a long-term, committed relationship for almost 10 years. MacGinnis had an estranged relationship with his sister, Susan Dahl, but she was his only living family.

(MacGinnis was famous for his own headline-grabbing litigation, reports Metropolitan News-Enterprise. He won an intentional infliction of emotional distress suit against Rock Hudson's estate based on his claim that he was the actor's former lover, and Hudson knowingly concealed that he had AIDS during their relationship.)

During their relationship, MacGinnis showed Beckwith a will he had saved on his computer. The will stated that upon MacGinnis's death, his estate was to be divided equally between Beckwith and Dahl. MacGinnis never printed or signed the will.

In 2009, while MacGinnis was in the hospital awaiting surgery to repair holes in his lungs, he asked Beckwith to locate and print the will so he could sign it. Beckwith couldn't find the original will, so he created a new will with essentially the same terms using forms downloaded from the Internet.

Before Beckwith presented the will to MacGinnis, he called Dahl to tell her about the will and e-mailed her a copy. Later that night, Dahl responded to Beckwith's email suggesting that a trust would be a better way to distribute MacGinnis's assets, and offering to talk to attorney friends about setting up a trust. MacGinnis died, intestate, before that became possible, and Dahl inherited the entire estate as his only surviving family member.

The court decided that it was "officially time" to recognize tortious interference with inheritance, and noted that most states require the following elements in an IIEI claim:

1. An expectation of receiving an inheritance

2. Intentional interference with that expectancy by a third party

3. The interference was independently wrongful or tortious

4. There was a reasonable certainty that, but for the interference, the plaintiff would have received the inheritance

5. Damages

The court concluded that Beckwith's complaint alleged sufficient facts to support a claim for deceit, but insufficient facts stated to allege IIEI. Given the unique circumstances of this case, the court remanded the matter to give Beckwith an opportunity to amend his complaint to allege the facts necessary to support an IIEI claim.

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