Tortious Interference with an Inheritance

Two cases now pending before the Texas Supreme Court will decide whether a disappointed heir can sue for money damages when someone uses improper means to cause a testator to disinherit her.

One of these cases, Kinsel v. Lindsey, was decided last year by the 7th District appeals court in Amarillo. The Supreme Court granted review, and briefing on the merits has begun. The other case, Archer v. Anderson, was decided earlier this year by the 3rd District appeals court in Austin, and a petition for review is still pending.

As recently as three years ago, the Court denied a petition for review of a similar decision from the 4th District appeals court in San Antonio, In re Estate of Valdez. The fact the Court granted review in Kinsel may indicate it is ready to recognize this tort, or it may merely indicate the Court wants to resolve a perceived conflict among the state appeals courts.

At issue in these cases is whether Texas should recognize a cause of action for “tortious interference with an inheritance.” Courts in about twenty other states have allowed a disappointed heir to sue for money damages where her expectancy has been frustrated by someone using “fraud, duress, or other tortious means” to disinherit her.

In Kinsel, the decedent’s stepchildren sued her niece and nephew and their lawyer for engineering the sale of real property that would otherwise have passed to them under the terms of a trust she had written while their father was still alive.

The plaintiffs in Anderson had managed to reinstate their uncle’s estate plan benefiting them, but then sued the estate of the lawyer who had attempted to disinherit them, in an effort to recover their considerable legal fees.

In each case, a jury awarded significant monetary damages. In each case, the appeals court said only the state Supreme Court could recognize a cause of action for tortious interference with an inheritance.

We at Ford + Bergner LLP are monitoring these cases, and we stand ready to assist you in any controversies that may arise in the settlement of a trust or estate in which you have an interest.