"That's MY Inheritance!" Tortious Interference with an Expected Inheritance

What happens when a step-mother allegedly coerces her husband, on his deathbed, to divert bequests to her and away from his daughters?  In Florida, one option is to sue for something called “Tortious Interference with an Expected Inheritance,” and disgruntled stepdaughters did exactly that in Saewitz v. Saewitz.  However, in an opinion dated January 4, 2012, a Florida appellate court denied the daughters relief because, as it turned out, they couldn’t quantify their damages.

Damages aside, what actually is a “Tortious Interference with an Expected Inheritance” and how does it apply locally, in Virginia, D.C., and Maryland?  The Restatement (Second) of Torts explains that “One who by fraud, duress or other tortious means intentionally prevents another from receiving from a third person an inheritance or gift that he would otherwise have received is subject to liability to the other for loss of the inheritance or gift.”[1]  That’s a general definition, so note that because it’s a matter of local law, states recognizing the tort may call it by different names or alter its requirements.

And that brings us to Virginia, D.C., and Maryland, where right now, the Saewitz case may have little import.  In Economopoulos v. Kolaitis (2000), the Supreme Court of Virginia explained that their state does not recognize “tortious interference with inheritance.”  The same seems to be true in the District of Columbia, at least according to one trial court, as noted in In Re Estate of Dorothy O. Reilly (D.C. Court of Appeals, 2007).  But consider that the D.C. Court of Appeals refused to decide whether “intentional interference with an expected inheritance” was a viable claim when presented with the question in 2008, in a case called In Re Loraine Boley Ingersoll Trust.  And perhaps similarly, Maryland has yet to decide whether to recognize the tort, although in Geduldig v. Posner (1999), the Court of Special Appeals explained that it would be willing to do so “if it were necessary to afford complete, but traditional, relief.”  An example of that could be “where the traditional remedy might be insufficient to correct the pecuniary loss.”

For family members and friends in these three jurisdictions, the Maryland courts’ words bear much wisdom.  Indeed, there are other remedies available to individuals who want to challenge a will, and even among those jurisdictions that recognize an interference with expected inheritance tort, there are some that require plaintiffs to pursue those other remedies first.  That’s where an attorney comes in – he or she can help you determine just what those remedies are, should a time come when you need them.

[1] Note:  This was not retrieved from the actual restatement. Rather, it’s quoted in the Geduldig case.

-  Gary Altman, Esq. and Coryn Rosenstock

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