January 13, 2021 Top Story

Court Recognizes Tortious Interference with Inheritance

Tortious interference with inheritance may not apply to post-death actions

By Jonathan W. Lounsberry

In a case of first impression, one state’s high court has recognized the tort of interference with an inheritance, finding that it is a natural extension of the tort of intentional interference with economic expectancy. ABA Section of Litigation leaders note that the opinion marks a growing trend towards recognizing this claim, but warn that its scope is limited to wrongdoing that occurred before the testator’s death.

The inheritance was found to be a natural extension of the tort of intentional interference with economic expectancy

The inheritance was found to be a natural extension of the tort of intentional interference with economic expectancy

iStockphoto by Getty Images

Baseless Legal Challenges to Will Sparks Recognition of New Tort

In Barclay v. Castruccio, Dr. Peter Castruccio and his wife Sadie had several businesses together. After the couple divided up their real estate, in 2010, Dr. Castruccio signed his last will and testament bequeathing $800,000 to a long-time employee, Darlene Barclay, and the remainder of his estate to Sadie upon the condition that she execute and file a will before he died. Otherwise, the remainder would go to Barclay. When Dr. Castruccio died in 2013, his wife had not fulfilled those requirements, and Barclay inherited the $6.7 million residuary estate. In response, Sadie filed seven unsuccessful lawsuits seeking to overturn the estate plan.

In 2017, Barclay sued Sadie for intentional interference with an expectancy, malicious use of process, and abuse of process, alleging that Sadie’s actions caused Barclay to incur attorney fees and litigation costs defending against multiple groundless lawsuits, reducing the value of the estate. The trial court dismissed all three claims. Barclay appealed only the intentional interference of expectancy claim. The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, the state’s intermediate appellate court, affirmed the dismissal.

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