Tortious Interference with Inheritance – Won’t Let Me Make Up My Own Mind

In this episode, Lisa Shoalmire and John Ross discuss a recent case in the Texas Supreme Court which dealt with an appeal of an inheritance that may have been manipulated by a would-be-inheritor or an incidental outsider.

Episode Transcript
John
And as far as all of you who are listening out there on the radio, we again, we are on Facebook Live. If you're not familiar with that, if you're on Facebook be sure and go over to the Ross and Shoalmire Facebook page and give us a Like over there. You can go on to the Aging Insight Facebook page and give us a Like over there and if you've liked those pages then when we go live not just on the radio here but we're also gonna start doing these sort of things when we give our speeches out there in the community and... 'Cause Lisa and I are out there running our mouths somewhere all the time.
Lisa
Somewhere, and you know... Well and this coming week John, so this coming Thursday, you got a calendar here what date that is?
John
Well, yeah it's on my phone which is currently broadcasting us on the Internet.
Lisa
Which is how we're Facebook living. Yes. It is this coming Thursday, let me see if I can get that pulled up, that would be Thursday, February 23rd. Thursday, February 23rd we will be in our monthly Eggs and Issues in Texarkana. That will be in Texarkana, Arkansas at Trinity Church. We'll have a little breakfast and topic to discuss and we do that the fourth Thursday of every month.
John
Yup. It's free to the community and different topic every month.
Lisa
It's absolutely free.
John
Just kinda like the radio but it's a good opportunity to ask questions and we can go into quite a bit of detail and choose a pretty good program. We've been doing it for what? Four years now?
Lisa
Yeah. Coming up. And used to I would say, "Hey, if you're listening to our radio show come on out to Trinity on the fourth Thursday of the month for Eggs and Issues and you could lay your eyeballs on us," but now with our Facebook Live feed you can...
John
Yeah. Now you can just get on the Internet and see how the sausage is made. That's right. Aright. Well, we got an interesting topic and part of this started because the Supreme Court of Texas, of course they're based down there in Austin. That's where they do most of their stuff. But they will occasionally go roaming about the great State of Texas.
Lisa
Yes. It puts a funny picture in my mind because I think about these black robed judges roaming gallivanting across the great state of Texas. But they do sit in Austin most of the time because they are the Texas Supreme Court.
John
Right, they'd be there in the capital, that makes sense.
Lisa
Yeah, the Texas Supreme Court hears only civil matters, they don't hear any criminal matters.
John
Right, 'cause in Texas we have the Supreme Court of Texas which hears civil cases and then we have the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Lisa
Right, and they only hear the criminal stuff.
John
And they hear the criminal side.
Lisa
So, this past week the Texas Supreme Court was on the road. They took their show on the road and they actually heard arguments in cases pending before their court over in Longview, Texas.
John
Yeah, and of course for those of y'all who... Most all of our listeners are listening locally in the Texarkana region, but our firm actually has offices in Paris and we have an office in Longview and we have an office in Tyler and so we're all over East Texas and so our attorney down in Longview, her name is Kristen Ishihara and she was very interested in the essence. So she went over and actually listened to some of the arguments that were made during the Supreme Court oral argument section of one of the cases and it was one that we kind of felt, it was pretty interesting and so we thought we'd kind of bring that to y'all today.
Lisa
Right, that Texas Supreme Court, they're gonna be hearing all sorts of things like breach of contract and personal injury, stuff like that, but there was a case, that potentially has a big impact on elder law, wills, probate and all those types of issues that was heard there in Longview.
John
That's right and you know, as so often it seems like things come in piles because Lisa, you spent some time this week in court.
Lisa
Yes, I did.
John
On some post-death stuff.
Lisa
Yes, so many times we'll have families come in, they'll say, "Well, this should be simple enough." And whenever I hear that that it should be simple, [chuckle] often I know it isn't going to be anything but simple.
John
I saw a thing on the Internet, a meme on the Internet the other day and it was a lawyer looking at his secretary and it said, "Block my calendar for the rest of the day, I have somebody coming in for a simple probate."
Lisa
Right, yes that's exactly how I felt. [chuckle] I was working with a gentleman who was the administrator of one of his dear relatives estates and some other family members weren't too happy about it and we ended up in front of the judge. It's a situation where the deceased did not leave a will, so we have that problem right off the bat. Our client had already been appointed as the administrator and which should have been a pretty quick, a little deal, but it turned into, I don't know, five hours. Four or five hours at the courthouse with the judge and at the end what I thought was a bit ironic was at the end from the bench the judge said, "I knew this decedent and I know this person would not have wanted their estate to turn into a circus." And John, I wanted to raise my hand and say... [chuckle]
John
"What has the last four hours just been if not a circus."
Lisa
Right, so I was like "Well judge, we have already blown that one." But it's too bad because all of these family members regardless of who is on what side, blah, blah, blah... They've lost a dear family member and now the family itself has been torn apart a bit and it was just rough.
John
Yeah. That's right.
Lisa
But that's how I spent a good deal of one of my days this week.
John
You know, any time there's been a loss, there's always kind of a change in the dynamics among the family seems so often that the glue that held the whole mess together is ultimately the one that's died and that has a tendency to things to kind of break apart and you get a lot of suspicion or you can get a lot of suspicion in those cases. And then you can combine that with personalities. Some personalities, they just start up bad. There are some bad actors out there.
Lisa
I bet we have some listeners saying, "Amen to that."
John
Yeah, there are some of those folks that are just bad, in fact, before we get into it I had pulled up an obituary, this is a Texas obituary.
Lisa
Oh yeah, I saw this one. This was that gentleman, well I don't if he was a gentleman.
John
I don't think, gentleman...
Lisa
Down in Galveston?
John
Yeah, down in Galveston, Leslie Charping of Galveston, Texas who died in January. The first sentence of the obituary is "He passed away on January 30th, 2017 which was 29 years longer than expected and much longer than he deserved."
Lisa
Boom! Okay.
John
"Leaves behind two children, six grandchildren, and countless other victims."
Lisa
Okay. Wow! That's pretty harsh.
John
And it goes on and it does not get better from there, where it talks about him being a womanizer and a drunk, and all kinds of things, and it ends with "No services to be held, no prayers for eternal peace, and no apologies to the family he tortured. Leslie's remains will be cremated and kept in the barn until the family's donkeys wood shavings run out."
Lisa
Yes, that's not the legacy that I hope...
John
That's not a guy that was well-liked by his family.
Lisa
Yeah, it sounds to me like they all need counseling, maybe because of him or maybe in spite of him, I don't know.
John
But I guess the point is there are some bad folks out there.
Lisa
Yes.
John
There's some folks out there and then, unfortunately...
Lisa
Yes?
John
Unfortunately, Lisa and I also happen to be a part of a field of professionals that does also have a few bad actors in it.
Lisa
Oh, wait, you're talking about "The lawyers."
John
I am. And this is probably surprising to most of the listeners, but lawyers don't have a great reputation out there.
Lisa
They're shocked. This is new information.
John
Yes, I know this is new information to everybody who's listening, they're thinking, "Really? I always understood lawyers to be just 100% of the most... There's no jokes about them or anything."
Lisa
Yeah, well-respected, top of the list, right there with CPAs, heart surgeons.
John
Yeah, something like that. And so you can get some attorneys out there that either, on the one hand, are participating in the bad actions. That does happen.
Lisa
Encouraging...
John
Encouraging.
Lisa
Misguiding clients.
John
Or, on the other hand, you've got attorneys who are not... They're not doing anything wrong, but they're just... You're plaintiffs attorneys out there, you're sue-happy lawyers that are always looking for a new reason to sue somebody. And so in this big melting pot of different issues, of bad actors and attorneys and all of this, you come up with a potential for a new cause of action, a new reason you can sue somebody.
Lisa
Right. Yes.
John
Maybe.
Lisa
Yes. Yeah, a cause of action is what we lawyers call... Anything that gets you into court, what could you plead that could get you into court.
John
Right. So, if you think about it, if you hit somebody then you can be sued for assault or battery. If you...
Lisa
If you renege on a contract...
John
You could be sued for breach of contract.
Lisa
Right.
John
But what if, for example, let's say that you're about to receive an inheritance from your mom and included in that inheritance is a house, for example. And this is an actual scam that's going around here in Texarkana is people will come to an older person's house and say, "Hey, I will take care of you for the rest of your life."
Lisa
Yes. "We'll bring some in-home care."
John
"We're gonna bring in-home care. We're gonna make sure you're staying at home and you're able to age in place. All you have to do is deed your house over to us." Right?
Lisa
Right.
John
So, let's say I'm the scammer and I've gone over and I've convinced this lady to deed her home to me, which she does. Now, you're her child, you're the person who would have received this house upon her death. Now, let's say that a little time goes on and mom dies. And so as a result, mom doesn't own a home and maybe not any other assets, and so you have been deprived an inheritance that you might have otherwise received.
Lisa
Right, through the actions of this other person, this other actor.
John
Yes. This third party has done something that is interfering with your right to an inheritance. And so the concept here or the cause of action here is something called "Tortious Interference with Inheritance."
Lisa
Yes. And so tortious interference, John, that's our fancy legal word for today.
John
Oh, yeah, that's a good one. Alright. Well, we're gonna have to take a quick break so stick around. You, listening on the radio, stick around. Those of you who are watching on Facebook, well, we'll still be here. Everybody else stick around, we'll be right back.
Lisa
Well, welcome back everyone to our segment here on Aging Insight and we were just getting it built up, John, to start talking about our topic for the day which is the... It's a very smart sounding legal term. We're talking today about tortious interference with inheritance. And, I've seen it termed, John, sometimes tortious interference within expected inheritance.
John
That's true. That's another way to write it because... I guess that's kind of the first thing here is you do not have a right to an inheritance. There's no such thing.
Lisa
Right. Yes. I have people coming all the time and they talk to me at the office and they say, "Well, dad's will says that I get the 40 acres down by the river or I get the 30-06" or, "I get this or that." And, one of my first questions, John, is, "Well, is dad still with us? I thought he was. He's not dead, is he?"
John
Right.
Lisa
And they'll say, "Oh, no! But the will says... " And I'll say, "Well, the will really doesn't mean anything until dad is deceased and the will's been offered for probate in court," but people do create in their minds when they know what a will says.
John
That's right.
Lisa
They do create in their minds an expectation that they're going to receive that inheritance, but John, in the State of Texas, State of Arkansas, most states...
John
Yeah, most states.
Lisa
Most states, there is no guarantee and there is no right to an inheritance. I don't care if you're the favorite child or the charity or the church that mom went to for 80 years. There is no expectation or right to an inheritance.
John
No. None whatsoever. You have no right to it. But, it can be relatively clear that you would have received one, but for the fact that somebody out there messed around and started doing some stuff. And that's where this Longview case kinda came in and essentially there was a trust. And in this trust, it said that, "This person over here. Person number one, gets this land and then, everybody else gets whatever is left into the trust." Now, prior to the mom's death, I'll say mom although I don't think it was actually a mother but prior to mom's death. Mom, who was in charge of this trust and who was the owner of this properties and who had made out this whole plan. Prior to that, a law firm along with the other heirs assisted mom in selling that property.
Lisa
Okay, so they sold the land out of the trust.
John
Yeah, they sold the land. And so, instead of the trust having any land at all, it just had cash. Then, later when mom dies, well, the land that would have gone to child one is no longer there. And so, the other people get everything.
Lisa
Yeah, and so, person one, child one there, gets nothing.
John
That's right.
Lisa
Because the trust said, "Person one gets this land."
John
That's right.
Lisa
And when the land is gone, that doesn't mean that you get the dollars that may have been generated from the sale of that land. That's a specific bequest there that the land goes to person one.
John
That's right. And so, yeah, when you make a specific bequest and the property itself, the item itself is no longer there, that's something called "Ademption" and it just goes away. And so, you get nothing then in this case. And so the plaintiff, in this case, is the child who lost out on this land.
Lisa
Yes, the person who got nothing, they had nothing to lose by filing a lawsuit to try and get something.
John
That's right. And they sued the other beneficiaries, they also sued the law firm, the law firm of Jackson Walker which is one of those big high brow...
Lisa
That's a tall building.
John
Tall building law firm. Over there in the Dallas area, or Houston and all of that.
Lisa
Dallas, Houston everywhere. Yeah.
John
Sued them for tortious interference. Saying that these attorneys and these...
Lisa
Other heirs...
John
Other heirs, that they interfered with this person's right to receive that inheritance. So tortious interference of inheritance; and the question is, is that even a legitimate claim?
Lisa
Yeah, is that a thing?
John
Is that even a thing? Can you even sue for that? And, maybe not. We'll find out once we come back.
John
Welcome back to Aging Insight everybody, this is your host John Ross here live in the studio. If you have any questions for us today, feel free to give us a call, whether you're listening in on the radio or you're checking us out on Facebook. Ross and Shoalmire Facebook page, we're broadcasting Facebook Live. Whether you're watching live right now, whether you wanna go back and watch it later, be sure and get on there and like our page, so you'll know that these things...
Lisa
That's right.
John
And of course if you like it, feel free to share it out there with your friends as well, help get that word out there. So feel free to give us a call, the phone number is 903-793-1071, that's 903-793-1071. And today we're talking about tortious interference with inheritance rights.
Lisa
Right, so that is a civil matter, we're not talking about criminal. We're not talking about the State of Texas coming in and prosecuting anybody, we're talking about a civil matter. You can kind of think about it like a breach of contract or a negligence claim where personal injury, car accident, things like that, and whenever you have... This is called a tort under the law, it's a civil matter. But in order to show that you should prevail on a tort, there are certain elements or what we call them "Elements in the cause of action" that you have to show. And John, I think, about half of the states in the country have recognized the tortious interference with inheritance rights as a legitimate cause of action that you can sue on.
John
Yeah, that's right. About 20 states out there have recognized it. The question was in this Texas case, again, the lady as we mentioned before the break. This person was supposed to receive some real estate from a trust. But before the lady that created the trust died, she, with the assistance of a law firm, and at least supposedly the encouragement of some other family members.
Lisa
Some of the other heirs.
John
Some of the other heirs, got her to sell that property which meant this particular person got nothing. And...
Lisa
Everybody else split the cash.
John
And everybody else split the cash and of course the lawyers got a bunch of legal fees for doing all of the work. And so, there was a lawsuit. The claim in that lawsuit was tortious interference with inheritance.
Lisa
And John, the state of Texas, as of yet, has not explicitly said that this is, in fact, a valid cause of action.
John
Yeah. There's no law out there, like in the books' law that you can read. There's no statute that goes in and says, "Yes, you can sue for this."
Lisa
So, the person who feels like they were wronged, that they were deprived of what they would have received under this trust, this real estate, they hired some lawyers and these lawyers looked around and said, "Well you know, all these other states recognize a cause of action for interference, for tortious interference with inheritance rights. So we're gonna plead it and then we're gonna start taking it to the Texas courts and see if the Texas courts will recognize this right or this tort. And if they will, then, good day. We're gonna recover some money damages in all for you." But the states that have already recognized this cause of action, you have to show that the claimant, in this case, we have the person who was to receive the land. That person, that claimant, has to show that they had an expectation of receiving an inheritance and they also have to show that there was an intentional interference with that. And it had to be somebody else besides the deceased. There had to be some third parties involved. Because, John, we talk about all the time, you can change your will or change your estate plan anytime you like.
John
That's right. Well, yeah. The one thing you can't do is sue the actual decedent.
Lisa
Say, "You told me it was gonna be this way and then you changed it." Yeah, no, if they wanted to change it, were of a sound mind, they have...
John
Yeah. Then they certainly can. But if some third party held a gun to their head and forced them to change it, then you might have a claim against that third party.
Lisa
Or that third party perhaps misrepresented the circumstances of... And basically created, I don't know, the environment that would make the person want to change their estate plan. So, there has to be some intentional interference by a third party. And that interference has to be wrongful. Wrongful. And that wrongful action had to be directed at the decedent or the testator. Because we're trying to manipulate that person into doing something else.
John
That's right.
Lisa
And so basically we're having to show that. You also have to show that you as the wronged person, the claimant, that you don't have any other adequate remedy at law.
John
Right.
Lisa
And John in the case, this Texas case, this was a piece of land that was at issue.
John
Yeah. And the one thing about land is you cannot replace land. Every piece of dirt is unique.
Lisa
Well, that's right. If you ever watched "Gone with the Wind," You know, I'm the movie buff.
John
Yeah, that's true.
Lisa
But Mister O'Hara tells Scarlett, "It's all about the dirt."
John
That's right.
Lisa
There's nothing like it.
John
That's right. [chuckle]
Lisa
And that's pretty much a legal concept that, as far as dirt goes, there's nothing like it.
John
Yeah, that's right. All your dirt out there is typically unique. And so at least in this case, I think, that's what they're saying is we have these other people that they alleged that the testator, the decedent, the person who's deceased that set all this up, that she was mentally frail and that they took advantage of her mental frailty to get her to do this. So there's your wrongful conduct done by third parties and there was no other adequate remedy because this property is long gone now.
Lisa
That's right. Nobody can take it back from the purchasers.
John
That's right. So she sued and won in the trial court.
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