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

In Munn v. Briggs, the probate court sustained Carlyn and Michael Briggs' (defendants and respondents) demurrer stating that California has yet to recognize the tort of intentional interference with an inheritance expectancy and that the determination of whether California law should recognize such a cause of action is not one that should be made by the trial court. James Munn (plaintiff and appellant) appealed the trial court's ruling arguing that the codicil's no contest clause prevented him from contesting the will in probate court.

The Court of Appeal noted that when a party has an adequate remedy in probate, the party generally will be barred from recovering in tort for interference with an expectancy. The Court further noted that James, as Janell Munn's (decedent) child and beneficiary, had standing in probate and therefore had adequate remedy in probate to challenge the codicil without resorting to the tort of interference with an expected inheritance. Accepting James' argument that he had no remedy in probate court due to the codicil's no contest clause would undermine the important public policies served by no contest clauses. This would eliminate will contests in probate court to the extent that testamentary documents contain no contest clauses. Additionally, this would also undermine the 2010 revisions made on the Probate Code one of which allows for enforcement of a no contest clause against a direct contest when brought without "probable cause." Accordingly, the Court of Appeal affirmed the probate court's judgment and awarded costs on appeal to Carlyn and Michael.

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

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