Tortious Interference in Florida Probate
Tortious interference with regards to inheritance law is one of the most important classifications to keep in your back pocket when enduring a FL probate case.
It occurs if one party, by means of coercion, fraud, or underhand methods, circumvents an expected gift or inheritance. In other words, if someone interferes in a situation where the deceased would’ve otherwise gifted something more to the receiver.
It’s a “widely recognized tort” according to the exact words of the US Supreme court. Further, it’s clearly seen in the laws of many states today.
If someone rearranges assets to their own personal benefit in foresight of the testator’s passing and in contrast to their wishes, the aggrieved person may have grounds to take legal action.
Here are a few common examples of such manipulation:
- Huge insurance policy cashouts.
- Solely using a singular account for payment of bills to the benefit of one party, ie. if the bill payer is paying off large monthly credit card statements for mixed purchases on “behalf” of the estate.
- Funds transfer from one account to another. This is especially incriminating if the accused is among the beneficiaries or the only beneficiary of the transfer.
- Someone selling assets that belong to a particular beneficiary, knowing that cash is to be allocated differently. This is common amongst siblings where one sibling may have a greater understanding of how inheritance law works.
Requirements for Tortious Interference
That said, in order for the plaintiff to successfully file such a case in court, there are a couple of mandatory requirements.
They are as follows:
- The plaintiff needs to substantiate an expected inheritance.
- It should be clear how the accused intentionally got in-between the inheritance and the plaintiff.
- This interference should encompass undue influence, duress, fraud, among other activities that constitute tortious conduct.
- Proof that if the decedent was still alive & had intervened, the gift or inheritance would pass outrightly and without issue to the plaintiff.
- The intentional interference resulted in damages.
Further Info on Inheritance Laws and Tortious Interference
It’s often the case that the first four elements of a valid tortious interference lawsuit hold up.
Whenever we see any of these things at play – undue influence, duress, abuse, or fraud – it becomes very clear that there was an agenda for personal gain.
However, many cases are usually let down by the fifth obligation if they don’t have a lawyer with experience in this area of probate law on their team.
Many trials end unsatisfactorily for plaintiffs claiming tortious interference. This is because it’s common to see beneficiaries fighting over an inheritance.
For example, let’s say an elderly couple dies in a boating accident. They have two children and two properties they intended to pass down. One property is in Flint, Michigan and the other is in Pensacola, FL. The Michigan home was their primary residence until recently, and in their original will, they only mention giving their primary residence to their oldest child.
A Deeper Look
They don’t mention their vacation home in the will, and so the youngest feels entitled to it. However, the property in Flint is worth much less and the weather isn’t great either. The oldest sibling feels the parents intended to give him the “best” property because he has a family, a college degree, and is the more responsible of the two brothers.
However, the youngest feels like this is his chance to pay off debts and get off to a better start in the world. He doesn’t have a family of his own and has been in and out of drug rehab for the last several years. His parents always felt bad for him and sent money whenever there was a need.
Consequently, he thinks his parents left the second property out of their will so that he could inherit it without disinheriting the older brother from the “primary residence.”
As you can imagine, this is a hard case to settle without the parents being physically present. Both brothers will split the inheritance of the other assets in the estate. But the two siblings can’t agree on what’s considered the primary residence modern-day.
In other words, they can’t decide who gets the better property.
As the case progresses, we learn that the older brother allegedly had the words “in Michigan” removed from the will – it should say “Primary Residence in Michigan.” The younger brother’s attorney advises that he claim tortious interference.
Which Brother Will Win?
In this case, it’s clear that the older brother isn’t too happy about the property he’s set to inherit. This is because his parents were reluctant to update their will for unknown reasons. However, it’s hard to quantify damages, in terms of economic damages, especially because both parties will receive equal an inheritance of other assets.
If this sounds like you, an experienced Florida probate lawyer can help uncover what options you can pursue.
Legal remedies for Tortious Interference
Monetary damages are the typical remedy.
This is because fees can be levied on the personal assets of the defendant should the plaintiff prove his case. These damages may be in the way of punitive or compensatory payments. In other words, the judge may add additional fees to punish the plaintiff if it’s proven they were trying to take a portion of the inheritance that wasn’t rightfully theirs.
This is often in addition to some other solution deemed appropriate by the Florida court.
In the case of the brothers, the older brother may lose rights to the FL property and have to pay a few thousand dollars in fines.
However, this tort is usually a last-ditch option.
Usually, the plaintiff will exhaust every other avenue of legal remedy available. If there are still other possible probate solutions to the problem, the plaintiff cannot successfully file such a case.
Again, it’s best to let your lawyer figure out what you need to do before filing for tortious interference with expectancy.
Sometimes, the solution lies in challenging the entire will. In the case of the two brothers, there may be additional assets he’s entitled to.
Need an excellent lawyer?
Has someone made it their life’s mission to take something from your inheritance?
Don’t let them get away with it! You can get in touch with our offices and probate attorney David A. Silverstone will spearhead your judicial journey toward a desirable outcome.