If you were unsuccessful in challenging a loved one's will in court, there are other legal options available to you. One of these is to file a tort action, or lawsuit for a wrongful act that caused you economic harm, under the theory of tortious interference with an expectancy.
What Is Tortious Interference With an Expectancy?
Tortious interference was first recognized in a 1966 court case in Florida, and focuses on protecting the rights of the person who created the will rather than the rights of the person bringing the case. If someone used fraud, duress, undue influence, or other independent tortious conduct to deprive your loved one of the right to dispose of property freely, a beneficiary (you) has the right to seek compensation on your loved one's behalf.
There are a number of requirements needed to establish a claim for tortious interference. For example, you must be able to prove:
- Your loved one had a specific intention to leave a portion of their estate to you
- A third party (the defendant) did or said something to your loved one to reduce or eliminate your share of the estate
- There was a strong probability that your loved one would have carried out their intentions if the wrongful acts of the defendant had not occurred
- The defendant's interference was intentional
- The defendant benefitted by receiving estate assets contrary to the testator's intent, by redirecting your inheritance to benefit someone else, or by depriving you of your portion of the estate
- The defendant's wrongful interference was the reason your inheritance was reduced
- The defendant's wrongful interference caused you to suffer actual monetary damages
Unlike other forms of estate litigation, these actions seek compensation from the defendant personally rather than through funds in the estate. A successful judgment of tortious interference is paid from the defendant's personal assets and could include both compensatory and punitive damages.
Could I File a Tortious Interference Lawsuit?
This type of lawsuit is only available if you were not able to get an adequate remedy for the wrongdoing in probate court. Generally, this means you must have attempted a will contest or other action during probate to get your inheritance reinstated. However, the law doesn't require your attempt to contest the will to be successful, only that you exhausted your options in probate before making a tortious interference claim.
You may also be barred from bringing this lawsuit if:
- Your loved one is still alive. Since tortious interference involves pressing the rights of another person, you can only do so if the other person is unable to assert those rights. Florida Courts will not recognize a tortious interference case before the death of the person who created the will.
- You had a fair opportunity to contest the will. It's understandable for the court to bar a claim because you chose not to seek relief in probate. However, if you did not have a fair chance to file a will contest (you were not properly notified of the death, etc), you may still be able to file a lawsuit.
- You turned down a remedy during probate. The court may decide not to hear your case if there was an adequate and alternative solution offered during probate, but you chose not to take it.
Let Us Help You Through Your Next Steps
It takes an experienced probate and estate lawyer to succeed in a tortious interference with an expectancy claim. At DeLoach, Hofstra & Cavonis, P.A., we carefully examine the circumstances of your loved one's last will and testament, including whether they had the valid testamentary capacity or were unduly influenced by a third party.
Whether you're considering contesting a will or are looking for ways to prove someone placed pressure on your loved one, we can help present your case and makes sure your loved one's true intentions are honored. Set up your consultation today through our quick contact form, or start reading our free guide, The Top 20 Rules for Protecting Your Florida Estate.