The Supreme Court of Texas states in its Archer v. Anderson opinion (published in June 2018) that “there is no cause of action in Texas for tortious interference with inheritance.” This ruling was based on the court’s holding that there are other adequate, valid remedies for pursuing inheritance-related claims without doing so under this specific tort that conflicts with Texas probate law.
The basic facts set forth in the Archer case.
Stated succinctly, Archer v. Anderson involved a man named John R. “Jack” Archer who had married and divorced four times and never had any children of his own. In a 1991 Will, Archer left the bulk of his estate to his brother and his six children (a generous sum was also left to charities). Seven years later, Jack Archer suffered a stroke that left him very confused, disoriented and delusional.
Multiple parties soon stepped in at different times, trying to coerce Mr. Archer into changing his estate plans. Guardianship proceedings were also pursued. Eventually, the Archer family sued Jack Archer’s attorney, Ted Anderson, for breach of fiduciary duty, legal malpractice, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (They also sued others on Mr. Archer’s behalf).
Anderson passed away in March 2006 and Jack Archer died one month later. After Jack’s 1991 Will was probated, the Archers received their bequests under it. (Many other complex events also transpired, eventually leading both sides to file appeals that were addressed in this Supreme Court of Texas opinion).
Tortious interference with an inheritance has never been formally recognized in Texas.
The Supreme Court of Texas clearly notes that neither its predecessors on the bench – nor the State’s legislature – have ever formally recognized the claim of tortious interference with inheritance. However, over the years, various parties have repeatedly argued that such a claim was basically implied in other cases.
How should Texans respond and protect themselves based on this ruling?
Parties who believe that their contractual right to inherit from someone has been thwarted by a third party due to fraud, undue influence, issues involving testamentary capacity, or drafting irregularities — can still petition a court for help. A probate court could set aside certain gifts based on the offering of proper evidence – and might also correct a wrongful act by imposing a constructive trust so that no one will be unjustly enriched.
Of course, however parties proceed, they must be ready to cover court costs and attorney fees on their own.
To further combat fraud, it’s crucial for all family members to stay very actively involved with their elderly or disabled loved ones.
When few people keep in touch, numerous parties claiming to be friends or caregivers can find both cruel and hidden ways to steal from elderly or disabled people’s estates. (If you haven’t already done so, be sure to read The New Yorker article entitled, “How the Elderly Lose Their Rights” and AARP’s “Fraud in the Family.”
Please feel free to contact Murray Lobb so we can help you with all your estate planning needs. We can also provide you with legal advice on how you should proceed if you believe anyone is currently trying to defraud you (or a loved one) of any estate funds.