North Carolina recognizes a cause of action for tortious inference with expected inheritance. This cause of action can be confused with tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, which occurs in the context of a contract or potential contract. Conversely, tortious interference with expected inheritance occurs in the context of a will or estate, rather than in the context of a contract or potential contract. Further, unlike a cause of action for undue influence, which permits recovery by the testator (the person executing the will), tortious interference with expected inheritance permits recovery by the individual expecting to benefit from the testator’s will.
To prove tortious interference with expected inheritance, a plaintiff must allege:
- The defendant maliciously interferes with the making of a will by a third party, or maliciously induces the third party to revoke an existing will by means of undue influence;
- But for the defendant’s inducement, the third party’s potential will or revoked will would have benefitted the plaintiff, and;
- The defendant acted without justification in inducing the third party.
The Applicable Statute of Limitations
To succeed, the plaintiff must initiate his or her lawsuit before the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations. For tortious interference, the applicable statute of limitations is three years. Importantly, the three-year statute of limitations period is tolled during the life of the testator – in other words, it does not begin to run until the testator dies. This tolling principle follows North Carolina’s approach to a cause of action for undue influence.
If successful, a plaintiff can recover damages from the defendant to compensate for the value of the lost gift or inheritance resulting from the defendant’s interference. A court can also award other types of damages, including punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, and damages for emotional distress.
If you have questions regarding a wills and estates dispute, including tortious interference with expected inheritance, please give us a call at (704) 457-1010 to schedule a consultation. For more information regarding our firm, attorneys, and practice areas, please visit http://www.lindleylawoffice.com/.