The concept of tortious interference with the expectancy of an inheritance is relatively recent in United States law. Some states recognize it, and others do not. Ohio first confirmed its position in a case that went to the United States Court of Appeals in 1993: Firestone v. Galbreath. The landmark case set a precedent and established that Ohio law does recognize these tort claims.
Tortious interference with expectancy of an inheritance means that someone coerced, tricked or persuaded the testator, or the person who wrote a will, into disinheriting someone who could have expected to inherit. It has to be intentional and deliberate. "Tort" means suing someone in civil court to hold him financially responsible for actions he took to hurt you.
In Firestone v. Galbreath, the Ohio Supreme Court defined for the United States Court of Appeals what it accepts as a case for tortious interference. You must have had a right to expect to inherit, such as if you're a close family member or if the deceased repeatedly told you that she was leaving you her estate, then didn't leave you anything. You have to be able to prove that the person you're charging with interference took steps to deny you your inheritance through duress, undue influence or fraud. You must also prove that if the person had not done what he did, you would have inherited, and you must have suffered monetary damages because of his actions.
Who Can File
Ohio established in 1993 that anyone can file a tortious interference claim if a testator cuts him out of her will or leaves some nominal amount that is grossly short of what he expected. This is different from a will contest, which can only be made by someone with a "vested" interest in the estate. This is usually an heir who would have inherited if the deceased had died without a will under Ohio's intestacy laws, which list immediate relatives in an order of succession as to who should inherit the deceased's estate first and in what percentage.
Ohio requires that you exhaust all other legal avenues before you file a lawsuit for tortious interference. In 2009, the Ohio Court of Appeals put a decision on hold until the common pleas court issued its own decision in a will contest lawsuit involving the same people. The plaintiff had filed both a will contest and a tort claim, but the tort claim could not proceed until the will contest was resolved. The plaintiff ultimately lost the tort claim because he could not prove that he had suffered financial damage and that the person he was suing had acted to deliberately have him cut out of the will. While Ohio does recognize tortious interference with expectancy of an inheritance, it is a very hard claim to prove. If you're thinking of undertaking such a lawsuit, you should seek the help of an attorney.
- Justia.com US Law: 25 F.3d 323 -- Firestone et al. v. Galbreath et al.
- The Supreme Court of Ohio & The Ohio Judicial System: James R. Cunningham v. Paul R. Cunningham et al. (PDF)
- American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys; When a Will Contest Is Not Enough; Stephen C. Hartnett; March 2011
- Dictionary.com: Tort
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