Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Daughter Liable for Interfering with Stepmother’s Inheritance

Woman-with-HandThe tort of intentional interference with expected inheritance (IIEI) has been recognize as a legal claim in California since 2012. The Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento issued the first published opinion in California that affirmed the 2012 judgment in favor of a plaintiff. (Important note: The Texas Supreme Court has expressly rejected this claim). 

Frank Gomez married Beverly Gomes and had four children. After six decades, Beverly died and Frank rekindled an old flame with Louise, whom he married in 2014. 

Before Frank's death in 2016, he amended his trust to give Louise a life estate in the house they shared together. When Frank asked his daughter, Tammy, how she felt about this, she expressly disagreed. 

Shortly ( about 6 days) before his death,  a new attorney, Aanestad, came to meet with Frank. Aanestad testified that Frank stated he wanted his estate to pass to Louise and then to his children following her death. 

Frank never saw the new trust documents before he died on August 21, though Aanestad tried to meet with Frank on August 20 but was kept out. 

Judge Wood of the trial court found the testimony of Aanestad credible and unbiased and found that Frank would likely have signed the documents if not for his children interfering.

"The judge imposed a constructive trust over the assets that would have gone into the new trust to be held by Louise as trustee until her death pursuant to the terms of the unsigned trust."

The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment finding that substantial evidence existed that Louise expected an inheritance in the form of the new trust and Tammy knew about this expectation. 

"While these facts are unusual, the case illustrates when and how intentional interference with expected inheritance claims can be successful in California courts and may lead to the more frequent assertion of such claims. While each case will have its own strengths and weaknesses, California law has evolved from a cautious initial recognition of IIEI claims in the Beckwith case to the vindication of a spouse’s claims in the Gomez case."

See Jeffrey S. Galvin, Daughter Liable for Interfering with Stepmother’s Inheritance, Downey Brand: Trust on Trial, September 28, 2020. 

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.


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