In an effort to address one category of untoward conduct, the California Court of Appeal has created a new tort to give courts a chance to test the conduct of a beneficiary by standards reflecting societal mores.
A California intermediate appeals court recently used a set of egregious facts in Beckwith v. Dahl, to create the tort of interference with expected inheritance.
To the legally trained or the especially litigious civilians, torts are familiar. Nevertheless, torts rarely make an appearance in the world of estate planning or probate. A recent California case is an exceptional exception, advancing a new tort of “intentional interference with inheritance.”
California set the precedent for this tort in the case of Beckwith v. Dahl, 205 Cal.App.4th 1039 (May 3, 2012). A recent article in Wealth Management titled “Interference with Inheritance,” noted that any time a new rule is created it offers new boundaries to be tested by litigators and, in this case, any jilted family member.
As a result of this case, there are words to express the illegality of a terrible thing too many people attempt and get away with - interfering and disrupting inheritances or the intentions of elderly benefactors. On the other hand, those same words can be used to create confusion and unnecessary court battles.
When planning your estate, your end goals likely include ensuring the safety of your choices and the safe transfer of your assets, without litigation and pain for your beneficiaries. Against that backdrop, is tort a trend to watch in a negative light? Alternately, is this development praiseworthy?
Time will tell.
Reference: Wealth Management (September 7, 2012) “Interference with Inheritance”