In California, Beneficiary Can't Sue for Tort of Interference with an Expected Inheritance to Undermine a Will's No-Contest Clause

There are instances when a will has been revised to change the distribution of assets amongst beneficiaries. Some of these wills may have a no-contest clause that would prevent anyone from contesting such changes. Even if there were allegations of fraud or undue influence, contesting such changes may result in the beneficiaries losing all their right to inherit from the testator's estate. What must one do under these circumstances? In Munn v. Briggs et al. (2010 Cal.App. Lexis 860), one of the beneficiaries, James Munn (plaintiff and appellant), filed a petition for relief from interference with an inheritance expectancy, a tort that has never been recognized in California. James alleged that his sister and brother-in-law, Carlyn and Michael Briggs, influenced their mother, Janell Munn (decedent) to sign a codicil (a document that amends, rather than replaces, a previously executed will) to her will that gave $1 million each to Carlyn's children, Jana and Jack Briggs. No gifts were made to James children.

The codicil also contained a no-contest provision that stated that if James unsuccessfully contested the validity of the codicil, everything left in Janell's trust would pass to Carlyn. So instead of challenging the validity of the will and codicil, James filed a petition in probate court against Carlyn and Michael for allegedly interfering with his inheritance expectancy by exerting undue influence on Janell. Carlyn and Micahel filed a demurrer (pleading in a lawsuit that objects to or challenges a pleading filed by an opposing party). The probate court agreed with the demurrer without leave to amend. James appealed.

Tune in for more on this topic in our subsequent blog.

*This blog entry was not written by an Attorney and should not be construed as professional legal advice.

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