If you’re expecting to benefit from an estate, trust, retirement account, or life insurance policy and someone wrongly impedes this, you might have legal remedies. In many places, you can sue for intentional interference with inheritance (IIWI), though certain criteria need to be met for a successful claim.
Historically, if someone was proven to have coerced or exerted undue influence over the drafting of a will, that will could be contested. This typically happened when a will was presented for probate – a legal process where a will’s authenticity is validated before assets are distributed. Anyone with a vested interest can challenge a will or propose an alternate one during probate.
In modern times, courts increasingly recognize claims for damages against those who intentionally disrupt someone’s expected inheritance. For such a claim, the complainant must prove they expected an inheritance and the defendant wrongly intervened, making the benefactor exclude the complainant from the will. Crucially, for an IIWI case, the plaintiff only has to show that their claims are more probable than not – a lighter burden than contesting a will alteration.
Recognizing IIWI Claims
However, not all states acknowledge IIWI claims. Some states offer a similar action for wrongful interference with financial relationships, while others haven’t addressed IIWI recognition. A minority of states don’t recognize IIWI claims at all.
Michigan is one of those states where it is unclear whether the courts recognize common law cause of action for the tortious interference with an expected inheritance. Historically, there are discrepancies between different court cases, with certain case decisions seeming to adopt IIWI as a viable cause of action, while later cases appear to avoid any official recognition of a claim whatsoever.
Contesting a Will vs IIWI Claims
Because of this, if someone were to have grounds to challenge a will, it’s generally advised to research their states position on IIWI claims to ensure they can realistically seek damages. If an individual were to challenge a will during probate, they might obtain the same outcome as pursuing an IIWI claim separately. Often, if one can get what they seek through a will challenge, they might be barred from later making an IIWI claim. State laws differ in this area. For some, if the relief one seeks in an IIWI claim can’t be obtained through a will challenge, then the former is permissible.
There are cases where contesting a will isn’t enough. If you’re seeking assets not part of the will or if you believe you should benefit from non-probate assets like an IRA or life insurance, an IIWI claim might be your best course of action, especially since such assets, and trusts, bypass the probate process. This is not always a clear choice, so if in doubt it is advisable to consult an attorney specializing in probate matters to ensure that the best course of action is taken.