Frank and Louise Gomez’s love story sounds like something out of Hollywood. He proposed, she accepted. Yet before they could marry, Frank gets called up to go to war. Fearing that he may not return from Korea, Frank calls off the engagement and sets Louise free. But Frank survives, comes home, and marries Beverly. After 60 years and four children, Beverly passes away. Frank has never forgotten Louise. He finds her. Their happiness fans the dormant ember of their love. They marry in 2014 and live happily ever after.
Well, almost. Frank’s health turns terrible in 2015. He provides for Louise. In 2015, he amends his estate plan to give her a life estate in the home they shared, which also happened to be the home he had shared with Beverly. Enter Frank’s daughter Tammy, who objects to another woman sharing her mother’s house. In 2016, his health failing, Frank tells his lawyer to prepare a trust that would provide for Louise until her death, with whatever was left over to go to his children.
Tammy makes her stand. Literally. When the lawyer arrives at her dying father’s house to get Frank’s signature, Tammy blocks him. Twice the lawyer opens the screen door. Twice Tammy closes it. The sheriff is called. The lawyer leaves with the document unsigned, leaving Frank inside on his deathbed awaiting his arrival to get his final wishes on paper. He dies the next evening.
Louise sues Tammy, alleging she intentionally interfered with Louise’s expected inheritance. After hearing testimony, the trial court rules in Louise’s favor and imposes a constructive trust on assets Frank designated for her.
Tammy appealed, but a California Court of Appeal recently affirmed the lower court’s decision. It held that Louise had proven by substantial evidence these six necessary elements of an intentional interference with expected inheritance case:
- The plaintiff had an expectancy of inheritance.
- The bequest would have been in effect at the testator’s death but for the interference.
- The defendant knew of the expectancy and deliberately interfered with it.
- The interference was conducted by “independently tortious means.”
- The interference damaged the plaintiff, and
- The defendant directed the wrongful conduct at someone other than the plaintiff.
The court stated that “Frank’s will was overborne by Tammy because he was bedridden and unable to intervene when Tammy precluded [Frank’s attorney] from entering the home. Tammy precluded Frank from signing the new trust documents, an act the trial court found he would have done if left to act freely.”
Spare your family the drama. Make sure you and the people you love share a happy transition. Contact an experienced estate attorney to consider updating your estate plan before you’re on your deathbed. Gomez v Smith, California, Third District, C089338 (2020).
About the Author:
John O’Grady leads a full-service estate and trust law firm in San Francisco. His practice includes estate planning & administration, probate and trust litigation.