Page 17

Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin - Winter 2013

Tort Law Company of Virginia, the District Court for the Middle District of Alabama issued an order dismissing a claim for tortious interference with expectancy of an inheritance.14 That court stated: The Alabama Supreme Court has consistently declined invitations to recognize a cause of action for tortious interference with an expectancy. See Holt v. First Nat’l Bank of Mobile, 418 So.2d 77, 81 (Ala. 1982); see also Ex parte Batchelor, 803 So. 2d 515, 519 (Ala. 2001) (withdrawing an earlier opinion that recognized the tort). This court is bound to follow those precedents. 15 The states that have recognized tortious interference with an inheritance have held that the claim may only be brought when there is no probate remedy. 16 For instance, the Arkansas Supreme Court considered a daughter’s claim for tortious interference with an inheritance based on a mother’s statement that at her death, her daughter would receive half of her mother’s estate.17 Holding that the probate court remedy would have been sufficient, the court noted that if the daughter had successfully contested her mother’s will, she would have received half of the estate through intestacy laws.18 The court provided this explanation of the requirement: Most states that have considered the issue have held that a claim for tortious interference with expectancy of inheritance may only be brought where conventional probate relief would be inadequate. . . . If a will contest is available to the plaintiffs, and a successful contest would provide complete relief, no tort action is warranted. . . . The reason for such a prerequisite has been stated as follows: One frequently cited reason for allowing recovery for intentional interference with inheritance is that every wrong should have a remedy. Yet the facts giving rise to the tort are often identical to facts giving rise to a will contest. If either action would provide an adequate remedy, the plaintiff should be limited to the probate action because that is the preferred method for resolving issues related to wills. Accordingly, most jurisdictions prohibit a plaintiff from pursing the tort action unless a probate action is either unavailable or inadequate.19 A tortious interference with an inheritance claim has been allowed in other states under these three (3) factual scenarios, where there is no adequate probate remedy: 1. Where the defendant wrongfully interferes with the execution of the Will so that there is no Will to contest; or interferes with the revocation of the Will; 2. Where the defendant wrongfully causes the suppression, destruction or loss of the Will; or 3. Where the beneficiary of the Will is deprived of his inheritance under the Will by the wrongful inducement of inter vivos transfers to the defendant. 20 Pope v. Garett21 provides an example of the first scenario. In Pope, the decedent asked a neighbor to prepare a will leaving her entire estate to an unrelated beneficiary. 22 When the decedent attempted to sign the will, two heirs at law, who were disinherited by the will, created a disturbance through physical force to prevent the will from being executed.23 When the decedent died without signing the will, there was nothing to probate leaving an otherwise named beneficiary no way to contest the will.24 Under these facts, the court allowed the tortious interference with an inheritance claim to proceed.25 Creek v. Laski26 provides an example of the second scenario. In Creek, a defendant destroyed her husband’s will because she did not like its terms.27 Later, through testimony evidencing some of its provisions, the destroyed will was admitted to probate.28 However, disputed testimony prevented one beneficiary from receiving his legacy.29 The court allowed that beneficiary to bring a separate suit for tortious interference with an inheritance against the defendant who had destroyed the will.30 The third factual pattern is demonstrated by Peralta v. Peralta.31 In Peralta, a plaintiff filed suit against her siblings to recover assets that had been diverted to the siblings prior to their mother’s death.32 The plaintiff ’s siblings had transferred all of their mother’s assets so that upon death, no assets passed by will.33 In finding that the plaintiff lacked an adequate probate remedy, the court stated that “it is this injustice that the tort of intentional interference with inheritance was meant to remedy.”34 While other states have recognized the tort under each of the above factual scenarios, Alabama has only cited the events in Pope v. Garrett as sufficient to recognize a claim for tortious interference with an inheritance.35 However, since Wily physically prevented his Dad from executing the Will, and Noble was Continued on page 37. Birmingham Bar Bulletin/ Winter 2013 17


Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin - Winter 2013
To see the actual publication please follow the link above