In this article, we will explain the torts of tortious interference with an expectancy of inheritance and fraudulent inducement, two common causes of action in Illinois probate litigation. In the context of Illinois probate disputes, both causes of action are brought against individuals who wrongfully deprive the plaintiff of his or her inheritance. We will discuss the elements of each cause of action in Illinois and how they interact with Illinois will contests.
Tortious Interference With an Expectancy
The elements of tortious interference with an expectancy of inheritance in Illinois (also known as “intentional interference with inheritance”) are:
- An inheritance potentially directed to the plaintiff (“an expectancy”);
- Interference by the defendant with the plaintiff’s expectancy;
- The defendant’s interference must have involved tortious conduct such as fraud or undue influence;
- The defendant’s interference must have been intentional;
- Reasonable certainty that plaintiff would have received the inheritance had the defendant not interfered; and
- The plaintiff must have suffered damages as a result of the defendant’s interference.
The plaintiff must prove all of these elements in order to be successful in litigation. In addition to interference with a testator’s estate planning, tortious interference causes of action can also apply to the following situations:
- Interference with gifts that would have otherwise been made to the plaintiff during the lifetime of the deceased individual, known as “inter vivos gifts.”
- Wrongfully inducing the deceased individual to transfer property to the defendant during the deceased individual’s lifetime (“inter vivos transfer”), thereby diminishing the inheritance of the plaintiff.
Fraudulent Inducement in Illinois Probate Litigation
The elements of fraudulent inducement in the context of Illinois probate litigation are:
- That the defendant made a false statement of material fact;
- That the defendant knew or believed the statement to be false when it was made;
- The defendant made the statement with the intention of inducing the deceased individual (“the decedent”) to act;
- The decedent acted in reliance on the truth of the defendant’s statement; and
- The decedent’s action resulted in the decedent distributing his or her assets differently than he or she otherwise would have done, diminishing the plaintiff’s inheritance.
Tortious Interference with an Expectancy of Inheritance, Fraudulent Inducement, and Illinois Will Contests
Tortious interference with expectancy and fraudulent inducement causes of action are both commonly filed in conjunction with will contests, and they often require proving the same set of facts as a related will contest claim. However, they are different from will contests in the following ways:
- While the remedy for a will contest is to invalidate a will, the remedies for intentional interference with an expectancy and fraudulent inducement consist of seeking damages from the defendant.
- Because intentional interference with an expectancy and fraudulent inducements are tort claims against the defendant, not will contests, the penalties included in no-contest clauses of the will in question will not apply to these claims.
- The deadline to file a will contest claim is 6 months after the admission of a will to probate. The statute of limitations for tortious interference with an expectancy is 6 years after the discovery of the facts giving rise to the cause of action if the remedy involves non-probated assets (i.e. the assets of the defendant as opposed to the estate). The statute of limitations for fraudulent inducement is 5 years after discovery for non-probated assets.