Interference with an Inheritance

Ohio probate lawyers are familiar with the following elements that must be proven to maintain a claim for interference with expectancy interest: (1) an existence of an expectancy of inheritance in the plaintiff; (2) an intentional interference by a defendant(s) with that expectancy of inheritance; (3) conduct by the defendant involving the interference which is tortious, such as fraud, duress or undue influence, in nature; (4) a reasonable certainty that the expectancy of inheritance would have been realized, but for the interference by the defendant; and (5) damage resulting from the interference.

Sometimes, an Ohio probate court will inquire of whether, and to what extent, a claimant has an expectancy in an inheritance.  One case that is instructive is McWreath v. Cortland Bank, where the court gave considerable significance to the fact that the claimant/beneficiary had alleged that he was informed by the Decedent that he had been named as a beneficiary in the Decedent’s Last Will and Testament. In construing the first element of an “interference with expectancy” claim, the court observed that Ohio probate courts have consistently  held that the terms of a will or a trust can suffice, in and of themselves, to establish the existence of a proper expectancy of an inheritance. Further, the court noted that in the absence of a valid will, logic dictates that the existence of a familial relationship would be the controlling factor in determining the “expectancy” issue; however, when a valid will specifically names a non-relative as a beneficiary, the wording of the will would obviously be controlling for purposes of deciding whether the “inheritance” expectancy was reasonable.