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Inheritance Theft and Tortious Interference in Florida


Many people work their entire lives with an eye on leaving a lasting legacy to their kids, or another loved one. Losing a close loved one is awful enough, it can add insult to injury to find, after a loved one has passed, that the inheritance you expected is going to another party.

Sometimes life simply does not go the way we plan. Sometimes the testator of a will legitimately had different plans in mind that you just were not aware of. However, inheritance theft is a real thing. It happens every day around the world, and this article is being written to help victims of inheritance theft understand certain Florida laws that are in place to protect you.

Tortious Interference

“Tortious Interference with an expected inheritance” is likely not a term that most are familiar with. But all this term means is someone is making a claim that someone has intentionally acted in a way that interferes with a person receiving an inheritance or gift that they had expected.

Florida has long recognized the right to file a lawsuit in court to pursue the argument that someone has intentionally interfered with a person receiving an expected gift, or inheritance. The Second District Court of Appeal of Florida’s Carlton v. Carlton, 575 So.2d 239 (Fla. 2d DCA 1991) is one such case that speaks to this, and within that court decision the court cites lengthy history of other similar cases that establish the right to pursue the claim. Cited cases include Dewitt v. Duce (Dewitt v. Duce, 408 So.2d 216 (Fla. 1981), and Allen v. Leybourne, (Allen v. Leybourne, 190 So.2d 825 (Fla. 3d DCA 1966)), for example.

A claim of tortious interference with an expected inheritance is a civil lawsuit (not a criminal lawsuit) that can be filed by any intended beneficiary of an estate plan that has been denied an expected inheritance or gift due to the actions of the third party. The intended beneficiary might be a natural heir of the testator, a business partner, a close friend – your specific relationship with the person who has passed away is not determinative of whether you have a case. Any number of persons could have been promised an inheritance and rightly expected to receive it, but-for the wrongful action of a third party.

Inheritance Theft

A legal claim for tortious interference with an expected inheritance might arise when a person intentionally prevents another from receiving an inheritance or gift that the person WOULD, otherwise, have received. This might be accomplished through a number of means, including the use of fraud, or duress.

When bringing this type of claim, a Plaintiff should expect to be able to show:

  • Plaintiff expected to receive an inheritance
  • The third party intentionally interfered via tortious conduct
  • That intentional interference caused the expectation to change
  • The person affected suffered damages

Types of Tortious Interference

Florida does not have a well-defined definition of “tortious interference.” This means that this term and cause of action might apply to lots of different conduct. Some common examples of cases brought for tortious interference include those involving:

  • Fraud – For example, say that a third party told the testator that the expected beneficiary passed away, so they were written out of the will.
  • Coercion or duress – A Plaintiff might believe/argue that a third party threatened the testator in such a way that they wrote the expected beneficiary out of their will.
  • Forgery – Some Plaintiffs may believe that the will provided to the probate court is forged, and therefore invalid.

Please note that the above are not the only circumstances that could become a cause of action under tortious interference. An experienced attorney should be consulted to fully understand how this claim may apply in your specific set of circumstances.

Contact Suncoast Civil Law

The experienced Sarasota wills & probate lawyers at Suncoast Civil Law can help you understand what protections Florida law can provide to you and your loved ones. Contact our office today to see how our team can help.