In Beckwith v. Dahl, a California Court of Appeal linked California to a majority of other states by recognizing the tort of intentional interference with expected inheritance (IIEI).
To state a claim for IIEI, the court required the plaintiff to allege:
1. An expectancy of an inheritance
2. Proof amounting to a reasonable degree of certainty that the bequest or device would have been in effect at the time of the death of the testator if there had been no interference.
3. The defendant had knowledge of plaintiff’s expectancy of inheritance and took deliberate action to interfere with it.
4. Defendant’s underlying conduct was wrong for some reason other than the interference itself.
5. Plaintiff was damaged by the defendant’s interference.
6. Defendant’s conduct induced or caused the testator to take some action that deprived the plaintiff of his expected inheritance.
If defendant’s conduct was directed only at the plaintiff, the court stated that the plaintiff does not have a cause of action for IIEI.
For each of the elements of an IIEI claim, future courts will flesh out what specific conduct does or does not satisfy it. If a child tells his mother to disinherit his sister, will this be enough? Or must the child say something bad to the mother about his sister? Or must the bad statement by the child to the mother about his sister be objectively false? Or must the bad statement by the child to the mother about his sister be outrageous?
Will there be different standards for defendants who are related to the testator than for those who are unrelated. Will there be different standards for defendants who have helped the testator? Will there be different standards for defendants where the plaintiff has failed to stay in touch with the testator? Will it be relevant whether the defendant knows the lawyer who prepared the estate planning documents, or whether the defendant is already a client of the lawyer who prepared the estate planning documents? To what degree will the testator’s health status be relevant