Schilling v. Herrerra

The Facts

  • P (T’s brother) and D (T’s caretaker) are the parties in this case
  • T executed her will in Dec 1996 that named P as personal rep. and sole beneficiary
  • In May 1997, T executed POA to P
  • In Dec 1999, T was diagnosed w/ renal disease, resulting in several hospitalizations
  • P, who lived in NJ, traveled to FL to assist T
  • In Jan 2000, T executed POA for HC to P
  • In Jan. 2001, T was hospitalized again and P went to FL to make arrangements for her care
  • T left hospital and went to a rehab hospital then to a health care center then to another rehab facility
  • D became involved in T’s care at final rehab facility
  • T was discharged from rehab facility in Dec. 2001 and D notified P
  • D began to care for T in T’s apartment on an occasional, as-needed basis
  • In 2003, T’s condition worsened and moved into D’s garage/bedroom so as to allow D to care for her
  • T paid D for her services
  • D complained to P that she was not getting paid enough for her services
  • P sent D money in Apr. 2003
  • T became completely dependent on D
  • In Sep. 2003, D convinced T to execute a new POA to D, w/o P’s knowledge
  • D also convinced T to execute a new will making D personal representative and sole beneficiary of T’s estate
  • P visited T in Mar. 2004
  • T died at D’s home in Aug. 2004
  • D did not notify P that T had passed away until Dec. 2004, after the expiration of the creditor’s period and after D petitioned PC to discharge of probate
  • P had tried to contact T through D since Aug. 2004 but D didn’t return calls until after the conclusion of the probate proceedings

Procedural History

  • PC granted petition for order of discharge in late Dec. 2004
  • P sued D for intentional interference with the expectancy of inheritance, alleging that D deprived P of knowledge of T’s death and opportunity to challenge probate
  • D moved to dismiss on the grounds the P did not state a cause of action and that he failed to exhaust his probate remedies.
  • TC allowed D’s motion, ruling that D had no duty to notify P of T’s death and that P failed to exhaust his probate remedies

The Issue

  • Whether P’s complaint stated a cause of action sufficient to bring a suit for intentional interference with an expectancy of inheritance against D
  • Whether the TC erred in determining P was barred from filing a claim because he had failed to exhaust his probate remedies

The Rule

  • The complain must allege the following elements:
  • The existence of an expectancy
  • Intentional interference with the expectancy through tortious conduct
  • Causation
  • Damages
  • If adequate relief is available in a probate proceeding, then that remedy must be exhausted before a tortious interference claim may be pursued; however, if D’s fraud is not discovered until after probate, P is allowed to bring a later action for damages since relief in probate was impossible.

The Holding/Disposition

  • Yes, reversed and remanded
  • Yes

Court’s Reasoning

  • Citing a previous ruling, the court points out that the fraud, duress, undue influence or other independent tortious conduct required for the tort is directed at the testator, not the one bringing the complaint
  • It is not the beneficiary who is defrauded or unduly influenced, but rather the testator
  • Ruling based on P’s allegations that:
  • P was the sole beneficiary in the will
  • P expected to inherit based on that
  • D intentionally interfered w/ his expectancy of inheritance by convincing T to execute a new will naming D as the beneficiary
  • D’s fraudulent actions and undue influence prevented P from inheriting
  • Facts alleged by P must be accepted as true

Facts that P alleges show P was prevented from contesting the will in PC due to D’s fraudulent actions

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